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Israeli air strike in Syria: Lies, aggression — at what cost?

From close up, the assassination of a Hezbollah commander and an Iranian general was probably preemption. In the big picture, it was definitely aggression.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli Air Force pilots' course graduation ceremony, June 26, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Israeli Air Force pilots’ course graduation ceremony, June 26, 2014. (Photo by Haim Zach/GPO)

During the Second Intifada, (late 2000-2004) Israel made a habit of carrying out “targeted assassinations” of Palestinian militant leaders. The Palestinians, in turn, had a predilection for blowing up buses and cafes. After an assassination of a high-up Hamasnik or Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades man, some Israelis and many foreigners would question whether it was a good idea, whether it was worth the risk, given the likelihood that the Palestinians would be out for revenge. The routine response from the national leadership was that these Palestinian terrorists are always trying to kill as many Israelis as they can, no matter what Israel does or doesn’t do, so targeted assassinations do not put Israelis in any more danger than they’re already in.

Yet after every targeted assassination of a major Palestinian figure, the political, military and intelligence heads would warn the public that the threat level had just gone red, so they should be on high alert, keep their eyes open.

And I would wonder: if Palestinian terrorists are not influenced by Israeli targeted assassinations, why do Israel’s authorities put the public on high alert after each one?

The answer was that Israel’s authorities – the prime minister, defense minister, IDF, Shin Bet and Mossad – were bullshitting themselves and the public. They wanted to kill big-time terrorists, and they didn’t want to be put off by the risk of major revenge attacks, so they decided that there was no risk, and peddled that bullshit to the public.

Which brings us to Israel’s air strike on Sunday in the Syrian Golan Heights, which killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general and six Hezbollah fighters, including Jihad Mughniyeh, son of Imad Mughniyeh, the Hezbollah military chief whom Israel assassinated seven years ago.

Another head-on contradiction

The security establishment and “Western intelligence sources” immediately put out the word that Mughniyeh “was already planning, and had prepared, more major murderous attacks against Israel in the Golan Heights. These attacks include rocket fire, infiltrations, explosive devices, anti-tank missile fire, etc., with the goal of killing soldiers, hitting Israeli communities in the Golan Heights and killing Israeli civilians,” according to Yedioth Ahronoth, echoing the general coverage.

At the same time, though, Israeli authorities were saying that Hezbollah was not expected to try to strike back too harshly for Sunday’s assassinations because it didn’t want a full-scale confrontation with Israel, certainly not now when it is so heavily preoccupied with fighting on Assad’s side in the Syrian civil war.  “Hezbollah doesn’t want a full-fledged war. It has a number of possibilities to respond in different arenas. We assume that it currently does not want full contact,” former IDF counter-terrorism head Yoram Schweitzer told AFP, in line with the Israeli assessment in the immediate aftermath of the air strike.

Once again, there is a head-on contradiction here: if Hezbollah is not likely to strike back too hard at Israel for fear of a war, why was Jihad Mughniyeh planning to light up the north with rockets, bombs and deadly infiltrations?

They can’t both be true – if Mughniyeh was planning such attacks on Israel, then Hezbollah is not afraid of war with Israel, and would be looking to hit back extremely hard for the assassinations. But if Hezbollah’s response really was likely to be muted out of fear of conflagration with Israel, then it makes no sense whatsoever that Mughniyeh was about to try to kill lots of Israelis.

So which line of bullshit was it? Was the Israeli establishment 1) artificially inflating Mughniyeh’s intentions because it wanted to kill some Hezbollah men and an Iranian general just because? Or was it 2) artificially deflating the likelihood of a major Hezbollah/Iranian retaliation because it wanted to convince itself and the public that the air strike had carried little risk?

I think the answer is 2). I find it hard to believe Hezbollah was not planning to hit Israel hard at some point because Israel, after all, has blasted Hezbollah and Syria repeatedly for the last two years, bombing convoys of Syrian advanced weapons headed for south Lebanon as well as Syrian weapons depots, and killing Syrian and Hezbollah officials along the way. In return, Hezbollah, despite its best efforts, hasn’t managed to do more than injure a few Israeli soldiers with explosive devices on the border, while Syria and Iran have done nothing.

In recent years, Israel has been trashing Hezbollah, Syria and Iran as it pleases, with the only severe counterattack being Hezbollah’s 2012 assault on a tourist bus in Bulgaria, which killed five Israelis and a local bus driver in retaliation for the Mossad’s assassination of Imad Mughniyeh and five Iranian nuclear scientists. The following year Israel began its series of aerial strikes in Lebanon and Syria, the most recent of which took place last month.

So why wouldn’t Hezbollah’s Jihad Mughniyeh, with Iran’s backing, have been planning to hit Israel now?

War of choice

It didn’t have to be this way though. Israel could have a quiet northern border if it wanted to get off the fear-and-aggression treadmill. It taught Hezbollah a very harsh lesson in the 2006 Second Lebanon War; after that it could have adopted a hands-off policy toward Lebanon, Syria and Iran and trusted its military might to deter Hassan Nasrallah’s guerrillas from any further provocations, such as the kidnapping of two soldiers that set off that war. Instead, after the war, Israel went on the offensive and stayed on it, calling this policy – what else? – self defense.

Since Sunday, the popularity of the air strike and credibility of Israel’s leadership have been going straight downhill. First, Knesset candidate and retired IDF general Yoav Galant spilled the beans by saying that such military adventures during election campaigns are not coincidental. Then “security officials,” probably Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon or IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, said out of one side of their mouth that they didn’t know Iranian Gen. Mohammed Allahdadi had been in the ill-fated convoy, while out of the other side saying that Israel did not take responsibility for the attack at all. After that, the claim that Israel didn’t mean to kill Allahdadi stopped being taken seriously.

As did the assurances that Hezbollah will probably limit its counterattack. The North is now on high alert; tanks, soldiers and Iron Domes have been pouring in; a false alarm one morning led roads to be closed and communities to be told to stay indoors; and Gantz and the commander of the Air Force have cancelled their trips abroad.

“The scene envisioned in Israel is of an especially cruel assault,” wrote Yedioth’s very astute and well-connected defense analyst Alex Fishman on Friday. “Hezbollah and the Iranians want to see blood, and lots of it. The assessment is that they will aim the attack at soldiers to extract a painful price from Israel – as many deaths and injuries as possible – to punish, avenge, teach a lesson and deter. The targeted assassinations … put them in a position of having almost no choice.”

Indeed, the weak side that is continually under attack sooner or later has no choice. But the strong side that is continually on the attack does.

Retired Israeli general suggests Syria attack timed for election effect
Israel’s ‘war between wars’ backfires
It seems Israel just picked another fight beyond its borders

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    1. Viktor Arajs

      Hezbollah has every right to attack the zionist entity, and the zionist entity has no right to defend itself. It has lost legitimacy in the world community. Progressives should be grateful to Hezbollah for risking their lives for world peace. Even the US is having secret negotiations with Hezbollah

      Reply to Comment
      • Tony Riley

        If the “negotiations” are secret, how do you know about them? That’s about as credible as the rest of your nonsensical post.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      There’s this documentary about the Israeli arms industry, “The Lab” – it cost $10 to rent. If you’re a serious student of Israeli society I think it’s well worth it – click on “watch online” and you can pay with Paypal:


      Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      Larry is wrong. Larry wrote:

      “Israel made a habit of carrying out “targeted assassinations” of Palestinian militant leaders. The Palestinians, in turn, had a predilection for blowing up buses and cafes.”

      In 2006 David Jaeger and Daniele Passerman of the Institute of Labor looked at the correlation between Israeli attacks against Palestinian terrorists and attacks by Palestinians terrorists against Israeli targets. The Report found that Palestinian attacks were not retaliation for previous Israeli attacks.

      “[w]e find little evidence that there is any relationship between Israeli violence and a response by any [Palestinian] faction.”

      The Report stated that Israel responded in “a predictable and systematic manner to Palestinian violence” while the Palestinian actions did “not seem related to Israeli violence, either through revenge, deterrence or incapacitation.”

      Palestinian violence was motivated by desire and opportunity. Hamas and Islamic Jihad are sworn to the destruction of Israel. They need no other motivation. They need only opportunity.

      Andrew Kydd and Baraba F. Walter in 2002 showed that often Palestinian attacks were timed to coincide with developments in the peace process. Mia Bloom in 2004 found Palestinian attacks were also a matter of political competition in the Palestinian sphere to gain credibility and support of the Palestinian public for a faction. Robert Pape and Claude Berrbi showed that factions used terrorism to extract concessions from Israel.

      The bottom line is that Palestinian factions carried out plans for terrorism primarily against Israeli civilian targets for furthering their causes and not as a retaliation to Israeli action.

      With respect to Hezbollah in Syria, Israel has been carrying out a systematic approach to deny Hezbollah missile hardware and opportunity to hit Israel communities. Israel has hit several targets deep in Syria to prevent transfer of more sophisticated rockets than Hezbollah is thought to control. It is also consistent with this policy of preemption to destroy Hezbollah and Iranian efforts to locate missile bases within kilometers of the Israeli border. Past reactions, despite Iranian, Syrian and Hezbollah blunderbust, suggest that reaction would be muted.

      Larry makes a mistake about Hezbollah. Hezbollah wants to open a second front against Israel on the Syrian Golan Heights as it has done with Southern Lebanon. As with Southern Lebanon, assets are acquired and placed in position long before they are intended to be used.

      A hands off policy with Hezbollah, as Larry suggest, is not only foolish but suicidal.

      With respect to any military operation is there is always the risk that there will be unintended consequences which are not unforeseen as a possible reaction. Risk is weighed and action is taken.

      Reply to Comment
    4. phil

      Pedro quotes Jaeger and Passerman but many other scholars dispute their findings..

      The first suicide bombing directed at Israeli civilians was a response to the hebron massacre perpetrated by goldstein.. and the next surge of attacks was prompted by the assassination of Yayha Ayash.. and indeed many other attacks were expressly claimed as revenge for assassinations

      Arguing that there “little evidence that there is any relationship between Israeli violence and a response by any [Palestinian] faction” is fatuous

      Reply to Comment
    5. MIkesailor

      If anyone really wants to know why this attack happened, first begin with those two neo-conservative pro-Zionist masterpieces “A Clean Break” written for Israel so many years ago, and follow it with the writings of the “Project for a New American Century”. Then start looking at the history. After the Us invaded Iraq, Syria was overloaded with refugees from what was quickly turning into a sectarian bloodbath. Does the US help with the refugee crisis it was responsible for helping create? Of course not. In fact the US attacked Syria at one point accusing it of sending, or allowing to be sent, Sunni guerrillas, to assist in the war. Of course, the idea that a Shi’ite-run regime would have no incentive to help the Sunnis ethnically cleanse Iraq was never addressed. The lie stuck because the media accepted whatever was said. Likewise with the Israelis misleading the Turks who were trying to mediate the dispute between Israel and Syria over the Golan, and then using Turkish airspace to bomb Syria. Finally, with the recent death of the Saudi king, we have been regaled with ridiculous mourning over this paragon of virtue and “reform”. It might be wise to remember that the Saudis have continually tried to undermine the Allawite regime in Syria, a goal which accelerated with the ascension to the throne of old Whats-his-name. Who do you think bankrolled the “spontaneous” opposition to Assad? With the full knowledge and approval of the Israelis who still assist the Syrian “rebels” including the ISIS jihadis. Why? Because the Israelis feel that they will be able to keep the Golan if the rebels win. That is the underlying promise of the Saudis who were always more interested in keeping the Sunni-Shi’ite schism going than in the Palestinians or anything else. The schism is one of the pillars of their monarchy as “guardians” of Sunni Islam. So, killing an Iranian was just what the Saudis and Israelis wanted to do, albeit for different reasons. The real problem for Israel would be if the Saudis ever decided that the schism outlived its usefulness. Israeli paranoia makes attacks like this inevitable, for without these political contretemps Israel would be really isolated in that neighborhood. They already always play to their authoritarian neighbors and despise and actually help thwart any type of real democratic openings for their Arab neighbors. But no state of affairs stays unchanged forever. If the “Arab Spring” was not suborned, the Palestinian problem would be front and center instead of the sideshow it is now. And BDS would not be the necessity it is if the Palestinians had more than the Quisling leadership they have been saddled with by the US and Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Tomer

      GIve peace a chance
      Kill another hezbolla shit today

      Reply to Comment
    7. Bar

      Why were senior Hizbullah and an Iranian general next door to Israel but in Syria (not even Lebanon)?

      For the same long-term attacks on Israel Larry is predicting will happen now anyway.

      Without the same intelligence as the IDF at our disposal, we can only guess why this attack took place. However, it would seem prudent not to put on our ideological lens when trying to figure it out. Just as a reminder, Hamas and Hizbullah are proxies of the Iranians and have fought wars against Israel using Iranian weapons and training. Iran has promised in the past to arm the “West Bank,” Judea and Samaria, as they have Gaza. This all happened prior to this Israeli attack.

      Reply to Comment
      • Yeah, Right

        Bar: “Why were senior Hizbullah and an Iranian general next door to Israel but in Syria (not even Lebanon)?”

        Because rebel forces are attempting to consolidate control of the Golan at the same time that they are attempting to threaten Damascus.

        Assad’s army are only strong enough to block one of those moves, but not both.

        This may shock you, but Assad chose to place his forces around Damascus, which means that he has to find an ally to oppose the rebel forces in the Golan.

        And that means Hezbollah and Iran, because those are the only allies he has.

        It is neither surprising nor alarming that they are where they are, precisely because everyone knows who they are opposing there (hint: it ain’t Israel).

        Honestly, Bar, take the blinkers off for once.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Margaret Kelso

      Phil, your facts are totally wrong. You should be head writer for Pallywood.

      You say, the first suicide bombing directed at Israeli civilians was in response to Baruch Goldstein killing Palestinians.

      The first suicide-bombing by Hamas occurred nearly a year before Goldstein’s attack in Feb 94.

      List of suicide bombing attacks by Hamas in 1993:

      “On April 16, 1993, at a roadside café at Mehola Junction, Hamas operative Tamam Nabulsi drove a van into a parked bus and detonated it. Two passengers on the bus were killed and five were injured. This was the first suicide terrorist attack in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist group.” ( Who are the Palestinian Suicide Terrorists?, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Sept. 2003)

      The Jerusalem Post reported the attack on April 18, 1993. The article noted that this was the first suicide bombing in Israeli territory. Hamas took credit for the attack.

      An abortive suicide attack was reported in Gaza on September 13, 1993.

      Sept. 26, 1993: Hamas member Ashraf Mahadi , died in the Gaza Strip, when his explosive-ridden car blew up (botched attempt)
      Oct. 4, 1993: Kamal Bani Ohed, rammed explosive-laden car in Israeli bus near Ramallah and Beit El, 29 Israelis injured. Hamas claimed responsibility.

      Nov. 2, 1993: A botched car-bomb attack near Sinjil; Hamas claimed credit
      Dec. 13, 1993: Anwar Aziz, drove bomb-laden ambulance into a jeep-load of Israeli soldiers in Gaza Strip, wounding three.

      Dec. 14, 1993: Ossama Hamid, Hamas member, Israelis killed him before he detonated the bomb. According to the Jerusalem Post, he was driving an ambulance.

      The Jerusalem Post on Dec. 24, 1993: “About a dozen suicide bombings have been attempted since the PLO-Israel accord was signed in September.”

      Reply to Comment
    9. Peter Hindrup

      How, why have Israel’s victims not retaliated against Israeli Political and military leadership, and the military/political leadership of those who support Israel?

      It is kiling these people that would have an effect, not killing the brain dead soldiers who are ‘only following orders.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mikesailor

      Peter: Because it wouldn’t matter. If the Palestinians kill a political leader, they would be labeled “terrorists”. If they kill military soldiers, they will likewise be dubbed “terrorists”. And the Western media would decry the attack; the same media which never decries Israeli attacks even upon defenseless children. Killing brain-dead soldiers is the fairest they can get for the Israelis have never cared whether or not the Israeli “Defense Forces” kill civilians or not. By the way, the theory has always been if you are a combatant, then you take your chances that someone will kill you. It is only the Israelis who have turned that bit of international law and custom on its head. The Israelis believe that if you kill enough civilians than that will force the combatants not to fight lest the slaughter become too great. In fact, that is Israeli military doctrine. Which is why I say they are nothing but cowards and war criminals.

      Reply to Comment
    11. lichtderaufrechten

      An attack by Israel on Syria would be a clear breach of international law. Maybe Beijing and Moscow should take Jaffa and Tel Aviv out of the game! Netanyahu is a fascist criminal asshole! I know that Assad Israel has made a comprehensive peace offer with a demilitarized Golan, a nature reserve and comprehensive guarantees. Instead, NATO and Israel have invaded Syria, employed mercenaries worse than SS, and slaughtered tens of thousands of people.

      Reply to Comment