An unnamed source speaking to The New York Times says that he expects Israel to launch another strike against Syria in the near future. The report by an “American intelligence analyst” underscores previous allegations that raise the specter of increased Israeli involvement in Syria’s civil war, a conflict that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 and displaced at least 1.5 million people over the past 2 ½ years of fighting, according to United Nations estimates.
The New York Times report has not been rescinded or clarified in the days since its release, but it has stymied those within the U.S. and Israeli intelligence communities, some claiming that The New York Times report is valid, others questioning the true origins of the leak.
Speaking to the Jerusalem Post, Dr. Dan Schueftan, a visiting professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, said he was not even sure the sources are really American, as claimed, but that if they are, “it’s not the U.S. government.
“Coordination with the American government now is better than in the past,” Schueftan said, saying that President Obama would not have ordered the leak. He also doubted that it came from within the ranks of the Pentagon leadership.
Others take a different view. “The mere fact that such leaks happen often indicates that the Pentagon leadership does not have Israel’s interests at heart,” Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, told The Jerusalem Post. “It is difficult to assess the motivation of such leaks.”
What is known is that Israel has not shied away from launching preemptive strikes inside Syria in order to stop arms shipments and thwart threats that the Netanyahu government believes could compromise Israeli security.
Haaretz news reports that Israel is responsible for four separate strikes in Syria — one in January, two in the beginning of May and the most recent, a July 5 airstrike deep inside Syrian territory.
This latest and arguably most significant strike occurred at the beginning of last month when the Israeli Air Force (IAF) struck a facility where Russian-made Yakhont cruise missiles were stored. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government believes that the arms could have been headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon, an armed resistance group that has fought Israel intermittently since the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990.
Israel had occupied Southern Lebanon since the early years of the war, prompting Hezbollah and other resistance groups to carry out attacks in an effort to drive the Israel Defense Force (IDF) out of Lebanese territory. Hundreds of Lebanese civilians and numerous troops on both sides were killed over the course of the conflict. Hezbollah succeeded in driving Israel from the territory in 2000, when newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak unilaterally withdrew troops from Lebanon, ending an occupation that dated back to 1982.
Some American intelligence now believe that at least some of the Yakhont missiles had been removed from their launchers and moved from the warehouse before the attack. If the latest report is true, Israel could be preparing for another strike to finish what they started.
Before the start of the Syrian civil war in 2011, there were few incidents between the two countries, although both are technically still in a state of war following the 1967 war that saw Israel capture and annex the Golan heights. The territory’s capture is considered illegal under international law and Syria has insisted that Israel return the territory as a precondition for a normalization of relations.
Israel and Syria began high level peace negotiations in 2008 that were broken off when Israel carried out an attack on Gaza in response to Hamas rocket fire. The strikes resulted in the deaths of 1,387 Palestinians, at least 773 of whom were people who did not participate in fighting, according to a report by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.
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