Analysis || Jerusalem remains tight-lipped regarding attack on Syrian-Lebanese border
In the past, Israel has mapped out its 'red lines' for all sides that are stirring the pot in Syria, but Assad’s ailing regime is prompting renewed concern that these unwritten laws could be violated. The most unknown variable in this equation is Hezbollah.
If the reports in foreign media outlets are true, on Tuesday night the Israel Air Force attacked a weapons convoy somewhere along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
Official Israel is not commenting on the reports, and it is reasonable to assume that regardless of the entity behind the air strikes this silence will continue for at least a few days.
Israel has made its "red lines" known to all parties operating in Syria. In 2008, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister, Jerusalem sent the message that it would not accept the transfer of advanced, “balance-disrupting” weapons systems to Hezbollah and would use force if necessary to enforce its will.
On several occasions the messages were even more explicit: no to shipments to Hezbollah of advanced anti-aircraft missiles, long-range surface-to-surface precision missiles or shore-to-sea missiles.
Western intelligence sources say the warnings worked for a time, but Syria and Hezbollah may have fooled Israeli intelligence services a few years back, taking advantage of fog and wintry weather to transport modern weapons systems. According to unverified reports, Hezbollah has acquired M600 long-range missiles as well as Scud-B and Scud-D long-range rockets.
Recently the volume of warnings has increased about the possibility of Syrian chemical weapons being taken out of the country in response to the Assad regime's shaky hold on power.
This is undoubtedly the most worrisome possibility for Israel, but its likelihood has not been established. Moving chemical weapons is still considered very taboo, and Damascus would not take this measure without serious consideration.
It is hard to predict Syrian President Bashar Assad's behavior in the unprecedented position he now finds himself, under pressure from the Syrian rebels. Refraining from making statements allows the Syrian president to preserve "plausible deniability." If there is no official claim of a bombing, as if nothing happened at all, Assad doesn't feel obligated to react militarily against Israel.
But the most problematic variable in the eqation is Hezbollah. Over the past year there has been concern in Israel over possible erosion in the deterrent power of the Israel Defense Forces. Although Hezbollah has not launched any attacks along Israel’s northern border, it was behind the attack on the tour bus in Bulgaria in July and the cross-border incursion of an unmanned aerial vehicle in October.
These may the first signs that Hezbollah is ready to take more risks than before. If a Hezbollah convoy was in fact attacked on Tuesday all we can do for now is to wait for the organization's response.