By Fadi Elhusseini
Breaching U.N. Charter and violating territorial sovereignty of countries through quick air strikes is not a newfangled product. Major Powers have adopted such a practice in order to achieve quick, clean and accurate goals, avoiding any unnecessary complications of ground operations, which may bring about some unforeseen consequences. U.S. strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan in 1998 following the bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were a case in point. Its Continuous targeting of Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen is also another case in point.
Israel has adopted such bullying behavior through conducting quick strikes against its enemies, and the most striking case was in 1981 when it targeted and destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Israel has also targeted several military posts and convoys in Sudan in the years 2009, 2011 and 2012. For Syria, Israel has adopted the “Quick Strike” strategy as many as five sporadic times in less than twelve years, and each time the Syrian regime “retained the right to retaliate”. It is the same regime which downed Turkish F-4 fighter jet near the Syrian territories in the Mediterranean Sea in June last year. The crux of this article is to divulge the contours of such ambivalent state of affairs, which requires in-depth analysis albeit it has been simplified and underestimated by many others.
Last week, Israeli F-15 jets attacked a post north east Syrian Capital Damascus. Israel, which softened its tone against Al-Asad regime since the eruption of the Syrian revolution, refused to comment on the incident. However, its Defense Minister Ehud Barak who refrained from a direct confirmation said on Sunday “It’s another proof that when we say something we mean it. We say that we don’t think that it should be allowable to bring advanced weapon systems into Lebanon.”
Security reports believed the air strike targeted a military convey bound for Lebanon, which implies an Israeli preemptive move to stop this cargo of weapons before getting into the hands of Hezbollah. The Syrian regime refuted this story claiming that the strike targeted a scientific research center near Damascus.
Iran condemned the Israeli airstrike saying Damascus retains a legal right to retaliate. Russia described the strike as blatantly violates the UN charter and is unacceptable. Other regional and international powers opted to remain silent, and to watch rather than even commenting.
According to the standpoint of many military experts, Turkey and Israel have the most sophisticated air capabilities in the whole Middle East region, and both countries have their warplanes equipped with advanced systems able to jam radars. Nevertheless, Syrian ground defenses could shoot down the Turkish aircraft while failed to do the same in five different times with Israeli ones.
In an attempt to seek justifications, some observers commented that Syrian ground defenses are too busy with the current turmoil in Syria, and for that they could not shoot down the Israeli jets. Nevertheless, this justification is erroneous for two reasons: first, the circumstances when Syria shot down the Turkish jet are not much different from the current ones. Second, Syria did not shoot down any Israeli jets in the past four occasions either, when it was not mired in any domestic turbulence, and had the same ground defenses as today.
And due to the fact that this recent strike comes in very special and different psycho-political conditions from previous ones, examining the various dimensions of this strike requires an investigation in the determinants of the Syrian decision, and the conditions and calculations of decision-makers in such unique conditions. Arguably, while the decision of shooting down any attacking jets in Syria is a political decision and not a military one subject to the vision and opinion of the commander on duty, two probabilities can be drawn clearly;
The first probability is based on the assumption that the Syrian political leadership is dealing with this incident in accordance with specific Cognitive hypothesis. On the one hand, the Syrian realization of the limits of the Turkish response for downing its warplane comes in tandem with their solid consciousness of the fact that Turkey will not immerse itself in a very complicated war, in light of current ethnic and sectarian complexities. On the other hand, the decision-maker in Syria is also aware of the fact that shooting down any Israeli jet will be a tipping point, for a likely ensuing massive backlash from Israel. Needless to say Israel yearns to instigate a scuffle and lure Iran (Syria’s main ally) into an open war with the other International powers for the sake of deterring its (Iran) nuclear capabilities. For that, the decision would be just to remain bystander, and willfully forgo unplanned actions that could add more challenges to the ailing and foundering regime and increase the odds of yanking him out of the scene utterly.
The second probability is based on the hypothesis that the decision of not shooting the attacking jets is designed according to the attempt of Syrian decision-maker to avert any instant uncalculated reactions, especially when it is related to external components of this equation. Adequate analysis and careful considerations are unquestionable features of contemporary decisions by the stringent regime, particularly under such uneven conditions. From this stance, the Syrian regime would rather keep the card of “responding on the Israeli attack” as a last “winning” card, lest things get worse, so he could release some pressure and complicate the already tangled equations in the ongoing conflict.
In fact, this outmoded brinkmanship, which is not a military one though it looks like, was adopted by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when he launched his missiles against Israel during the Gulf war. His move was designed in an attempt to release some pressure and engage new parties in the war which would further complicate the calculations, distract some of the attention and release some pressure.
Amid the throes of the current Syrian upheaval, the sole loser will remain the Syrian citizen. And whereas Major Powers have shown less patience and zero tolerance towards other conflicts, their reluctance in taking a serious action is leading to further atrocities and more bloodshed in Syria. Hesitation spawns confusion, and confusion leads to uncertainty which is dangerous, for it is hard to stanch the lack of confidence and chasm of mistrust in universal values of justice and humanity. Such scenes, which have surpassed the likes of others elsewhere, should solicit everyone to move and put an end to the ongoing calamity.
Fadi Elhusseini, a diplomat working as a Political and Media Counselor in Turkey. He is an Associate Fellow- Research at the Institute for Middle East Studies- Canada. He held several positions in the Palestinian National Authority and was the executive director of the Palestinian Council on Foreign Relations. He was a lecturer at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. Elhusseini is currently a registered PhD student at University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom. He earned his Master’s degree in International Commercial Laws and Policies from Italy and a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Political Science from Egypt.
Twitter @ FElhusseini