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September 03, 2012

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Merely asking this question may sound like something a JFK-is-alive-as-a-vegetable conspiracy nut would do, but ... could Israel be orchestrating the attacks on the Syrian air bases? If the Israelis decide to attack the Iranian nuclear research facilities it would be quite useful if their aircraft could overfly Syria in relative safety. Overflying Jordan also would work, but the Israelis might want to preserve what's left of their semi-tolerable relationship with the Jordanians.

Peter, it's the Middle East, so no theory is too twisted. But I wouldn't consider it likely.

For one thing, I'm not completely convinced that "the Israelis" -- here meaning the inner circles of the Netanyahu government -- actually do want to bomb Iran. Talk about bombing Iran, threaten to bomb Iran, work themselves and the public into a lather about the menace of Iran? sure. But actually go ahead and try to bomb Iran? Yeah, not so certain about that.

They've been yelling about it for six years now without actually doing a single thing, you know? That's not how the Israelis act when they really, truly want to bomb something. (See, e.g., Nasser's air force in 1967, or the Osirak strike, or Operation Orchard a few years back. They never said a word about any of those in advance. Just, whoosh, kaboom.) To me, this is starting to look more like a piece of political kabuki meant for Israeli domestic consumption: Oh, we WANT to bomb Iran SO BAD, but those wimpy Americans -- currently led by a guy who doesn't love Israel, you know -- won't let us.

But anyway. A much stronger reason to doubt Israeli involvement is that Israel probably has very little direct influence on what's happening in Syria right now. That's because anti-Israel sentiment is universal in Syria. So while there are a dozen or more different rebel groups, they're all anti-Israel to one degree or another. Israel surely has intelligence assets in Syria, but I doubt there's any significant rebel group that would accept Israeli help or advice.

There was a time when Israel would have been able to influence the rebels anyway, using the Turks, but I'm not sure if the current state of Israeli-Turkish relations would support that.

Final thought: if the Israelis really believed that the Iranians were about to deploy an existential threat to Israel, offending the Jordanians would probably not be a major issue for them.

Doug M.

Three weeks later, it's reaching the New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/27/world/middleeast/rebels-make-gains-in-blunting-syrian-air-attacks.html?pagewanted=1

-- although it's a rather skimpy article, and doesn't address the question of whether the fight for the base is part of a larger pattern.

On a slight tangent: the Russians worked some real mischief with those shore-to-sea antiship missiles. Notice all the discussion of naval options against Syria? Nope, me neither. Complete and utter silence. There won't be any blockade of the Syrian coast until those things are taken off the board somehow.

It was a very clever move. Whether it was also a smart one... well, it's still not clear to me what real strategic interest the Russians have in propping up Assad.

Doug M.

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