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Israel sends Middle East a message with Syrian airstrike

Analysts say Israel may now believe it can attack Iran's nuclear facilities without reprisal.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 19, 2007


It's the event that everyone here – and no one – is talking about.

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Israeli officials have neither confirmed nor denied the target of its Sept. 6 airstrike in Syria. Was it, as some media outlets reported, an attack on the run-of-the-mill munitions being transferred through Syria on their way to Hizbullah, or was it a strike on nuclear components supplied by North Korea?

Either way, Israel's chief of military intelligence announced that Israel's deterrence had "been restored."

But unusually quiet, regional analysts note, are moderate Arab states and international players who would, in the past, have been quick to condemn any act of Israeli aggression against a neighbor.

Amid the state-imposed silence from officialdom here on what exactly Israeli bombs struck and why (Israelis are discussing it only on the basis of leaks in Washington), observers see several key messages.

First, Israel was able to strike at Syria without suffering any consequences, military or diplomatic. Second, Israel might take steps to fulfill one of its ultimate security objectives, which is to prevent other countries in the Middle East from obtaining nuclear capability, especially those overtly hostile to Israel. Third, if a Syrian nuclear installation can be targeted by Israel without any international outcry – and with the tacit backing of allies in the US and Turkey – Iran's nuclear facilities are looking more likely than ever to be next.

"Some analysts think that it's a message to the Iranian regime that Israel can strike anywhere in the region. And it shows us the extent of cooperation between Israel and Turkey, because Turkey didn't condemn the attacks until now," says Emad Gad, an expert in Israeli affairs at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. Israel dropped fuel tanks in Turkey near their border with Syria as part of the operation.

"I think some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and some other circles felt happy about the Israeli strike. Still, the main message is to the Syrian side," Dr. Gad says, pointing to Israel's frustration over Syria's assistance to Hizbullah, Hamas, and other Palestinian militant factions operating in Syria. Many in Egypt and elsewhere in the region see Israel's strike, when put in the context of the international community's standoff with Iran, as a step toward a bigger confrontation.

"We are heading toward what will probably be a European-US strike targeting the Iranian project, and people here are afraid of what the Iranian reaction will be," he adds. "It will be hard for them to hit America, and so anything that's seen as an American installation in the region could be a target."

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born, Tel Aviv-based analyst and author of "The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran," says the muted reaction to Israel's strike has Iran quite concerned.

"What worries Iran most is that the international community hasn't condemned Israel," says Mr. Javedanfar. "If they're not saying anything about Syria, and Syria's not as much on the outs, what does it say for Iran?"