Harriet Sherwood warns that Israel may “internationalize” Syrian war

In previous posts we’ve commented on wild accusations by both Guardian contributor Patrick Seale and the Indy’s Robert Fisk warning that recent Israeli military operations in Syria – to prevent sophisticated weapons from getting in the hands of Hezbollah – runs the risk of dragging a reluctant US, or its allies, into the three-year war.

Fisk (writing in the Indy) warned:

…Israel has now intervened in the Syrian war.  It may say it was only aiming at weapons destined for the Hezbollah – but these were weapons also being used against rebel forces in Syria.  By diminishing the regime’s supply of these weapons, it is therefore helping the rebels overthrow Bashar al-Assad. And since Israel regards itself as a Western nation – best friend and best US military ally in the Middle East, etc, etc – this means that “we” are now involved in the war, directly and from the air. 

Seale (writing for Middle East Online) was even more explicit in imputing Israeli malice:

Although Israel was evidently delighted with the weapons, this did not inhibit it from accusing Syria of using chemical weapons — clearly in the hope of provoking a U.S. attack on that country.

Harriet Sherwood’s May 20 report, John Kerry to visit Middle East this week to revive peace talks, which explores the broader regional political and strategic challenges beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, advances a similar trope.

Sherwood’s report includes the following passage:

Much of the secretary of state’s attention will be focussed on Syria during his four-day trip to the Middle East, which includes visits to Oman and Jordan. He is expected to discuss with Netanyahu Israel’s recent airstrikes on weapons stores near Damascus and the risks of such action internationalising the civil war, now into its third year.

Unlike Fisk and Seale, Sherwood doesn’t expand on her contention that such limited Israeli involvement could result in wider international involvement in the war.  Moreover, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent fails to acknowledge that the war (which has claimed up to 90,000 lives, and resulted in roughly 1.5 million refugees) was “internationalized” long before the Israeli strike – with Iran, Hezbollah and Russia playing leading roles in the pro-Assad axis.

Bombed-out mosque in the northern town of Azaz, 47km north of Aleppo

Iran’s role in keeping Assad in power is significant — supplying the regime with a large and strategically important supply of weapons and advisors, and allowing terrorists from its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, to cross into Syria and fight alongside government forces. Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have even been training key Syrian military and security forces and helping the regime expand its military capabilities. 

Additionally, Russia, motivated by both financial considerations and the desire to maintain influence in the region by preventing the departure of one its few strategic allies, continues to provide diplomatic cover for Assad (such as vetoing UN sanctions) and, most importantly, sends a huge supply of sophisticated arms to government forces.

Finally, recent efforts by the UK to lift the EU arms embargo on Syria, in order to possibly begin funneling weapons to selected opposition groups, suggests an evolving view that though all of the potential political outcomes in the civil war are fraught with danger, the West increasingly believes that it can not sit idly by and watch as the most extreme Al Qaeda backed rebel groups, such as the Nusra Front, gain strength.

Whatever additional limited IDF operations may be launched against Syrian arms destined for Hezbollah will represent a quite rational and intuitive political decision to prevent the illegal Shiite Islamist militia occupying Lebanon from gaining more deadly weapons to use against Israeli citizens.  

The Arab on Arab bloodshed in Syria has been “internationalized” since the beginning of the conflict, and whatever limited actions Jerusalem may take to limit the violence crossing its border will have little or no bearing on the decisions world powers will make independently regarding how best to secure their own interests in a Middle East war which shows no signs of abating. 

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