As has always been the case throughout the long Lebanese War of the past 4 decades or so, the recent Israeli incursions and attacks on weapons depot sites in Damascus, which it justifies by saying that these "arms potentially could end up in Hezbollah's hands," always raise unsettling questions about Israel's real intentions.
I am not one to immediately jump at conspiracy theories, but the Syrian-Israeli "partnership" has sustained hard times, has endured, and has kept peace on the Golan for 4 decades despite the fact that these two parties are sworn enemies on the surface or in theory. Israeli officials - who know that Syria is financing, arming and supporting all of Israel's other little enemies, from Hamas to Hezbollah and all the rogue Palestinian guerilla movements.... - have stated on many occasions that they prefer the Assad regime to any other alternative in Damascus because, apparently, Assad is more trustworthy, keeps his word, abides by agreements, is more amenable to a deal with Israel, etc... Yet 40 years of warfare in lebanon and the Palestinian territories, the hundreds of thousands of dead, the suicide bombings, the wars with Hezbollah, the occupations of lands and peoples, the proxy militias, the export of terrorism, the Iranian beachhead on the Mediterranean right at Israel's border, the hijackings, kidnappings, assassinations, etc... do not seem like a good price to pay for maintaining quiet on the Golan. Yet, this is what it all seems to be.
Now, assuming this theory has some traction, it implies that Israel will act in such a way as to protect or preserve the political order as has existed in Syria and Lebanon, for fear of a worse order should the Assad regime fall and, a fundamentalist Sunni government takes over in Damascus. In that same vein, one can view the recent attacks by Israel against Damascus-based weapons depot headed for Hezbollah in Lebanon as consistent with the consiparcy theory. Here's how:
By launching these strikes at a time when the US is beginning to edge close to some kind of increased intervention against Assad (e.g. by supplying lethal weapons to the Syrian opposition), Israel undermines the trajectory that such a policy might lead to. On one hand, it gives Assad some fresh breathing air to scream bloody murder, pose as the anti-Zionist enemy par excellence, rally the herd of Arab/Muslim nationalists around the regime, claim to be the victim of Zionist aggression, all of which turn the table on the equation inside Syria, namely that the Assad regime's enemies inside Syria (i.e the Syrian rebels) are friends of Israel, or at least are in the same trenches as Israel. Damascus and by extension Tehran regain a higher moral ground around the Arab and Muslim worlds, and so on and so forth.
However, just as this policy - still assumed under my conspiracy theory that Israel wants to protect the Assad regime - has kept peace on the Golan but wrecked havoc around the region and the world, its continuation is bound to perpetutate the violence and push peace even further back. In fact, if ISrael's fears are about some weapons falling into Hezbollah's hands, then let us consider whose hands these weapons might have stayed with if not with Hezbollah:
- The Syrian regime itself. That would be acceptable (under the conspiracy theory) because Damascus has always had these weapons and has never used them against Israel. BUT, everyone knows that Syria has been transferring similar weapons to hezbollah for 30 years across the porous Lebanese border, and ISrael has rarely, if ever, attacked such convoys or made a serious attempt at curtialing such a transfer. In other words, to allow the Syrian regime to hold on to these weapons is no guarantee of any sort for Israel that these weapons will not end up in hezbollah's hands.
- The Syrian opposition. Too many groups, ranging from the amicable perhaps to the hostile vis-a-vis Israel. Worst case scenario: These weapons might end up in the hands of Al-Qaeda affiliates or some other radical group with hatred toward Israel and with the potential of one day using them against Israel. But in such a case, these groups were the operatives of the Syrian regime for decades in the spread of terror in the region, and the fact that they split with the regime at the onset of the Syrian revolution does not change anything, because the Syrian regime could have at any other time provided these weapons to these operatives. Unless one invokes the conspiracy theory, namely that as long as the Assad regime has custody of these weapons, it will NEVER transfer them because it is in collusion with the Israelis and has given assurances to the Israelis that they will never allow these weapons to be used against Israel. Now that the Syrian regime is about to collapse, the deal between Assad and the Israelis is off, and Israel is cleaning house before it is too late.
- Hezbollah and other Iranian groups. These seem to be the immediate target of the interdiction attack. But aqgain Syria has been transferring weapons to Hezbollah for three decades and ferrying all kinds of dangerous missiles and drones from Iran to the South Lebanon-based terror organization. Sooner or later, in any hypothetical confrontation between Israel and Syria, the latter would not hesitate one second from handing these weapons to Hezbollah. So, it seems like a resonable argument for Israel to attack these weapons, just in case. But wait: Why hasn't Israel attacked these sites a month ago, 6 months ago, a year ago, 5 years ago...? Why now? Has the threat only now become a threat? The answer is Yes, because under the deal between Assad and the Israelis, only a certain level of armament is allowed to be transferred to Hezbollah, and these weapons cross the threshold of the deal between Israel and Assad.
The tightrope walking in all of this is mind bloggling, but the only one thing that is for certain is that the Assad regime has never attacked Israel in 40 years since the signing of the armistice on the Golan in 1974. Not one bullet was ever fired across the demarcation line, not by Israel, and certainly not by Syria, although both sides have engaged in bloody, mass-murder scale wars in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories, with invasions and occupations, and all kinds of human rights abuses against Lebanese and Palestinians. Not once did the Syrian army during its 35 years of occupation of Lebanon seriously engaged the Israeli army's repeated invasions of Lebanon, event though Damascus always claimed to be in Lebanon to defend it against "Israeli aggression". Not once did Israel attack Syria proper in 40 years, even though Israel knew full well that Damascus was the mother of all terrorist groups operating from Lebanon and Palestine against Israel. Neither side ever violated the mutual red lines they drew for one another in the long torment they imposed on Lebanon.
The laundry list is too long to list here to buttress the conspiracy theory... but this reminds me of something Kurt Vonnegut once said about situations like these: It's as though you are at a party with lots of beautiful people, but there is a stench wafting around. Everyone smells it, but everyone ignores it, because to do otherwise would ruin the atmosphere. Tolerate a little foulness just to keep the party going. This is how best I can summarize the strange bedfellows that Israel and the Syrian regime have been over 4 decades, and the party they both enjoyed while the stench of the torment of Lebanon and the agony of Palestine went on and on and on....