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Israeli Air Force Sends a Resounding Message to Damascus and Tehran

October 4, 2007
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Former American diplomat Dennis Ross writes in The New Republic (www.tnr.com) on Sept. 24 about what Israel really gained by bombing Syria:

"Sometimes in international relations, it is good to preserve mystery. The irony is that often when an action has been taken but not admitted, everyone seems to know anyway. That certainly seems to be the case with Israel's military strike against a target in northern Syria.

"The Israelis aren't talking about it or acknowledging anything. The Syrians are describing an episode in which they fired on Israeli aircraft, the aircraft dropped something and fled Syrian airspace. The president of the United States won't comment on the event -- of course, by not denying it, he leaves the impression that something significant absolutely took place.

"And, it appears, something did.

"The sketchy reports that have emerged -- again all citing anonymous sources in Israel or in the intelligence community here -- are that Israel took out a facility in northern Syria in which North Korea was helping Syria develop a nuclear capability. The absence of leaks coming out of Israel lends credence to the reports. Israel used to be one of the best keepers of secrets. Excluding this episode, it has become one of the worst. Everything seems to leak -- and not in drips, but in torrents.

"In this case, Israel has played it very smartly. Much is being made about the silence of Arab criticism of the apparent Israeli raid and what it says about Arab attitudes toward Syria. In fact, had Israel taken credit for the raid, Arab states would have felt duty-bound to condemn it.

"The Israeli security establishment has become increasingly concerned about significant Syrian weapons acquisitions, forward deployment of forces, training exercises and directives about a possible war. Israeli military officials have become convinced that Syria's president, Bashar Assad, has begun to believe that he could fight a limited war against Israel. Using as many as 20,000 rockets -- with some chemically armed as a reserve and a deterrent to prevent Israel from striking at the strategic underpinnings of his regime -- he appears, at least according to many in Israel's intelligence community, to believe he could fight a war on his terms. He was impressed by what Hezbollah did in the war with Israel in the summer of 2006 and believes he, too, could win by not losing in a limited war.

"Israel has been looking for ways to convince Assad that he is miscalculating; that he will not be allowed to fight a war on his terms; and that he had better not play with fire. The raid not only blunts Syria's nuclear development but also reinforces the Israeli message of deterrence. In effect, it tells President Assad that Syria has few secrets it can keep from Israel. For a conspiratorial and paranoid regime, this is bound to keep its leaders preoccupied internally trying to figure out what Israel knows and doesn't know.

"So, the raid is as much about pre-emption of a potential nuclear threat as it is about re-establishing Israel's deterrent in the eyes of the Syrian regime. From this standpoint, Israel may also have had Iran in mind.

"At a time when Iran appears to be determined to press ahead with its nuclear program and may have doubted Israel's will to do anything about it, Israel may well be acting to show it will do whatever it takes to ensure its security. With the United States bogged down in Iraq, the Israelis may be signaling everyone that if the international community doesn't take more decisive action, then it will."

Germany, of All Places, Proves Main Obstacle to Unity Against Iran

Shalem Center scholar Yossi Klein Halevi writes in The Wall Street Journal (www.opinionjournal.com) on Sept. 24 about Iran's German enablers:

"Business opportunities in Iran were the theme of a German government-sponsored conference last week in Darmstadt, Germany. 'Iran is accustomed to crises,' the conference invitation delicately noted, 'but somehow always keeps going forward.' In fact, Iran's resilience is made possible in no small measure by Germany itself, which remains one of Iran's largest trading partners. Now Berlin is balking at international attempts to intensify economic sanctions against the Tehran regime for its nuclear program.

"Just how discordant Germany's Iranian policy is even within the European Union was made clear last spring, when I participated in a 'roving seminar' on Iran and nuclear weapons that visited Paris, Brussels and Berlin. The Europeans I met were keenly aware of the danger of a nuclear arms race in the Arab world triggered by fear of a Shi'ite bomb. In Paris, a senior French diplomat said that, while he opposes a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, he well understands why Israelis see matters differently. In Brussels, a senior E.U. official went further, telling me how necessary it was for the United States and Israel to maintain the threat of a military option. Everywhere we met opinion-makers who understood that the greatest threat to world peace was a nuclear Iran.

"Everywhere, that is, but Berlin. There, government officials spoke of giving the Iranians one more chance to prove their peaceful intentions. When I raised the possibility that at least part of the Iranian leadership holds apocalyptic religious beliefs that could encourage a nuclear strike against Israel -- former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani declared in 2001 that 'even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything' -- I was dismissed as an alarmist. One senior German politician declared that a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities would be the worst of all scenarios -- worse, even, than nuclear weapons in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to launch another holocaust against Israel. This politician did, however, manage some outrage -- over Israel's settlements policy. In Berlin, it seemed to me that afternoon, the decision had already been made to learn to live with the Iranian bomb.

"Why, then, the German obstructionism on efforts to contain a nuclear Iran? Business interests, of course, offer one explanation. Last year, German exports to Iran totaled about $5 billion. Some 5,000 German companies -- including major corporations like BASF, Siemens, Mercedes and Volkswagen -- continue to do business in Tehran. As Michael Tockuss, former president of the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce in Tehran, boasted last year: 'Some two-thirds of Iranian industry relies on German engineering products.'

"Perhaps another reason for German blindness on Iran is a misplaced sense of contrition. In insisting on engagement rather than confrontation with Tehran, Germans seem to believe they are keeping faith with the lessons of their history. All problems should be peacefully resolved; no aggressor is irredeemable. The message Germany is inadvertently sending the Ahmadinejad regime is: Continue to hold out because the West is divided and, ultimately, will abandon not only the military option but the economic one, too.

"Germany's Iran policy undermines its own lofty goals. By weakening the sanctions effort, Germany is sabotaging the only real alternative -- as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has described sanctions -- to war with Iran. By strengthening the Iranian regime, Germany endangers Israel, to whose well-being it is committed. And perhaps, most ironic of all, by appeasing evil rather than resisting it, Germany compromises its profound efforts to break with its past."

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