Chester has an in-depth analysis of the situation in the Middle East in which he questions how far Israel will be willing to take this conflict and whether the Assad regime is really in control of Syria. He points to a 2002 article by Mark Silverberg that now seems eerily prescient:
The problem for Israel is that young President al-Assad has surrounded himself with people inexperienced in high politics, although he recognizes his country’s military and technological inferiority to Israel. Assad Jr. unfortunately, is fascinated by Nasrallah, accepts his patronizing praise and has allowed him to hold at least one Hezbollah paramilitary parade on Syrian soil.
He’s playing the dangerous game of brinksmanship without understanding the rules. Slowly, almost invisibly, an important revolution appears to be underway. Hezbollah is gradually consolidating its strength in Syria, and the Iranians, whose Vice-President recently visited Damascus, have “laid down the law” for the confused leadership there.
A Syria that can be manipulated by Hezbollah under Iranian guidance could well miss that crucial moment when Iran and Hezbollah attempt to spark a regional conflagration by means of a military provocation on Israel’s northeastern border.
That is a major source of concern to both Israel and the United States Defense Department. A weak and naive Syria will accelerate the power, influence and growth of Hezbollah, just as Arafat now finds it impossible to control Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Tanzim and the al Aksa Martyrs Brigades in the Palestinian territories. The more that Nasrallah is convinced that Assad Jr. is not up to speed; the more he will be convinced that he, in consultation with his Iranian cohorts, holds the key to power. And if he is convinced that there is an American threat to Iran, he will preempt it by striking at the Galilee to provoke an Israeli retaliatory strike.
But that retaliatory strike will be at Hezbollah in Lebanon as well as Syria.
This is not an imaginary scenario. As recently as three weeks ago, American and Israeli UN representatives met privately with their Syrian counterpart to warn him of the danger posed to Syria and the entire region by Hezbollah.
The singular conclusion is that someone has to inject sufficient fear into the Syrians to bring Nasrallah down.
And if the Europeans and Americans can’t, the Israelis will.
I think that ultimately the Israelis would prefer to not deal with Syria militarily – you don’t enlarge a war without having no other options. They’re hoping that they can prevent Hizb’Allah from using Southern Lebanon as a launchpad for attacks into Israel. If the Lebanese Army controls the border and pushes Hizb’Allah out, that gives Israel some breathing room in this crisis.
Ultimately, I’m not so sure that will work. Iran’s the puppetmaster for both Syria and Hizb’Allah (as well as Hamas), and the only way to definitively end that conflict is to cut those strings. Israel may have to ensure that Syrian money and arms do not flow to Hizb’Allah. That may require ensuring that the Syrians know full well that any attempt to continue their proxy war against Israel will be a fatal mistake – and the only way of doing that is for the Israelis to present a credible threat of military action at the very least.
In any event, Israel has now realized that the status quo in the region is no longer acceptable. Whether they simply deny Hizb’Allah their position along the Lebanese border or end Syria’s proxy war, the days in which terrorist groups can attack Israel over and over again with little fear of recrimination are over. Israel will not allow itself to be the subject of constant attack, and they’re taking affairs into their own hands. Whether this war ends in Beirut, Damascus, or Tehran, this war will end.