Has Israel officially entered the Syrian revolution when striking a military and research facility near Damascus last week? Not so fast.
Firstly, the Syrian revolution as it started out two years ago has become the proxy war in Syria. Syrian interests, and the aspirations of the Syrian people for legitimate governance that respects free speech and human rights, have become a sideshow in a greater war, the war for geopolitical supremacy in the Middle East.
Secondly, Israel will never officially enter a conflict in its neighborhood unless there is no way of denying its involvement. Israel's game is the game of ambiguous military actions, of intelligence operations and psychological warfare. The tacit cooperation that Arab countries have had with Israel over the years is one of the best kept secrets in the Middle East. The Great Satan is the great collaborator? A fact that is too outrageous to admit.
Israel was quick to make clear that its cross border foray was not aimed at the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. And indeed: Israel's goals are different than one might think. Israel has nothing to gain from a regime change in Syria. They love Assad in Jerusalem! For almost 40 years, not a single bullet had been fired from Syria direction Israel. And this despite the fact that the Assad regime, father and son, had positioned itself as the last government of a neighboring country that held up the flag of resistance.
Egypt and Jordan were induced to sign peace treaties with Israel. And from the chaotic political situation in Beirut could never emerge a real threat to Israel. As Robert D. Kaplan recently wrote for Stratfor: “because the Arabs never really believed in their dysfunctional states, they didn't always fight very well in state-organized formations. But sub-state militaries like Hezbollah and Hamas have been more of a challenge (to Israel).”
In fact, it was Hezbollah that was on Israel's mind when striking in Damascus. Acting on intelligence – true or false – that weapons were en route to South Lebanon, Israel drew a red line. A red line that other stakeholders in the Syrian quagmire had drawn as well, for various reasons, but then shied away from actually enforcing it.
Israel knows that it can get away with almost anything in the Middle East. If matters should become too tricky there is always the big brother in Washington that will serve as the ultimate goal keeper.
Life is good in Israel. The unemployment rate is lower than in the United States and in Europe, despite high housing costs and the need for reform in health care and education. It seems that only outside observers are bothered by the fact that a few dozen kilometers away from the posh neighborhoods of Tel Aviv, there are people living in third world conditions. The Palestinians are passing their days under enormous stress, with only random access to water and electricity and a feeling of injustice that will never go away.
Israel is a colonizer, not a liberator. It would be foolish to think that Israel would enter the Syrian war zone on the side of Assad's opponents. It must have been sheer desperation that got the much followed @THE47_th tweeting from Homs: “Syrians undergoing their biggest debate ever: to cheer or not to cheer Israeli attack on Assad. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? HELL YEAH”.
My friend from Homs, one is inclined to say, don't waste your tweets on Israel coming to your rescue. Israel never does anything for the sake of others. Your neighbor is the purest political realist, the most ardent disciple of Machiavelli there is. Israel only acts for the sake of its very own security environment.
The latest round in the perennial conflict that is the Middle East clearly goes to Israel. The amount of dilemma Israel's actions are able to create in the minds of others is almost funny to watch, if it were not that tragic. Should one praise Israel for bombing Assad's weapons' warehouse? Or should one condemn them, out of principle? Israel knows the psychological keyboard well and it plays it with competence.
Israel's raid on Damascus hit three targets with one strike. It showed that Syria cannot fully control its airspace (and that establishing a no fly zone over Syria would actually be possible); it cut off weapons' supply from Iran to Hezbollah, Israel's most feared enemy; and it discredited the Syrian opposition as collaborators of Israel in the Arab Street, when Assad's foes cheered Israel's military actions.
Israel deliberately added fuel to the fire in Syria. Netanyahu and his government don't care if the whole Middle East goes up in flames. In chaos, strong and focused actors thrive best.
At the end of the day, Israel prefers Assad to be in charge in Damascus, but it doesn't really mind who is sitting in the presidential palace – as long as the ruler of Syria is open for Israeli air strikes on his territory!
This post was first published at Your Middle East online media: here.