Editorial

Israelis Have the Right to Know That They Aren't Being Dragged Into War in Syria

One can express doubts about the Syria strike's purpose or justification – and even to wonder whether it is related to political battles inside Israel

Iran's military chief, General Mohammad Baqeri, meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria, October 19, 2017.
Iran's military chief, General Mohammad Baqeri, meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus, Syria, October 19, 2017. SANA/REUTERS

Friday night’s attack in Syria, which foreign sources have attributed to Israel, apparently hit a Syrian military base built by Iran, a munitions factory and Syrian forces. This is not the first time the Israel Defense Forces has allegedly attacked Syria. But as opposed to numerous other attacks carried out this year, the target was meant to deliver an aggressive message directly to Iran.

This message seems redundant. After all, according to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, there is no Iranian military presence in Syria save for a few hundred advisers. This statement contradicts reports from the Iranian opposition – which published extensive details of the deployment of Iranian and pro-Iranian forces in Syria – and Israel’s request to Russia demanding that Iran distance its forces from the Israeli border on the Golan Heights.

In a press briefing last month, Lieberman explained that the new base being constructed by Iran near Damascus is a Syrian base without the presence of Iranian forces. On the other hand, this weekend’s reports indicate that this base was the target of the attack – which means Israel allegedly decided to attack a Syrian target that did not constitute a threat to it.

While these contradictions await clarification, Israel continues to slide into the Syrian front: once on the pretext of protecting the Druze community in the border village of Khader, and another time by attacking a weapons convoy intended for Hezbollah. Israel has refrained from attacking Hezbollah’s missile bases in Lebanon, even though they actually represent a permanent threat, but finds relatively free operational room in Syria. There’s a great danger here, since this time it looks like the attack could be viewed as crossing a red line.

Senior military officials often explain that Israel has no interest in entering into a direct confrontation with Iran or intervening in the Syrian civil war. At the same time, though, they make clear that a war is liable to break out because of poor judgment or a misunderstanding. Without minimizing the size of the threat against Israel, the Syrian front – like the front in the south – is fertile ground for dangerous misunderstandings that could develop into a wider war.

Israelis have the right to know that their government isn’t dragging the country into another military adventure on the Syrian front. Friday’s attack is potentially dangerous and its necessity is not convincing. If the intention is to deliver a message to Iran, why was a Syrian base attacked that Lieberman himself avoided calling Iranian?

Such messages, which cross red lines, are liable to bring Israel into conflict with others, such as Russia. Even though this attack is now a fait accompli, it is not irrelevant to express doubts about its purpose or justification – and even to wonder whether it is related to political battles inside Israel.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.