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Syria's allies warn of retaliation for Israeli airstrikes, but threats likely hollow (+video)

Syria and Iran threatened to retaliate against Israel for its strikes on Syrian territory while Hezbollah deemed the attacks 'barbaric aggression,' but escalation is in no one's interests.

By Correspondent, Staff writer / January 31, 2013

An Israeli military jeep drives near the Israeli-Lebanese border close to the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona Jan. 31, 2013.

Baz Ratner/REUTERS


Beirut, Lebanon; and Jerusalem

Syria and Iran have threatened retaliation against Israel for a reported strike or pair of strikes in Syrian territory yesterday, but it is widely seen as counter to their interests to follow such bellicose rhetoric with concrete action.

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The Syrian government is condemning an airstrike by Israeli warplanes deep inside Syria. CBS News' Clarissa Ward reports.

Hezbollah slammed the attack today as “barbaric aggression,” but the Lebanese Shiite militant group is seen as unlikely to risk a new war with Israel when one of its chief backers, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is fighting for his regime’s survival and is in no position to engage Israel. Iran, which also backs Hezbollah and could use it as a proxy to retaliate against Israel, is likewise seen as loath to play that card and risk losing one of its best deterrents against an Israeli attack.

“I don’t think any of the sides are willing to risk a war at this time,” says Timur Goksel, a commentator based in Beirut, Lebanon, who served with the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon between 1979 and 2003. “If there’s going to be another war, it will more likely be related to an attack on Iran, not on an arms convoy or a facility in Syria.”

But the mutual deterrence that has kept Hezbollah from engaging in a fresh war with Israel, potentially on behalf of Iran or Syria, appears increasingly tenuous.

Israeli 'game changers'

Israeli officials have remained tight-lipped about the reports of military action, but analysts say it was likely motivated by both a sense of growing urgency and a calculation that neither Syria nor Hezbollah would retaliate.

“I have a distinct feeling that something happened in Syria that increased or heightened the threat perception in Jerusalem as well as in Washington,” says Prof. Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies. “I think the Israeli view is probably that Hezbollah and Syria are weak, with little likelihood of response or escalation.”


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