The ball, as of Wednesday, is in "their" court. Damascus and Beirut have probably been deliberating on how to respond to the attack on Syria that has been attributed to Israel. Their options are as follows: Restraint, war, or pinpoint retaliation. We can only hope that the combination of Israeli deterrence, international diplomacy and common sense will do the trick and prevent the Syrian civil war from engulfing the region.
For quite some time now, the defense establishment has been issuing warning after warning that advanced weaponry will begin to trickle westward, from Syria into Lebanon. The writing, as the cliché goes, was clearly on the wall, writ large, warning of four types of weapons that the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group wants to have in its arsenal: Chemical weapons, Scud D missiles, advanced anti-aircraft devices and cutting edge land-to-sea missiles.
As many reports over the last two years indicate, Israel has been monitoring Syrian weapons very closely. On several occasions, Syria and Hezbollah were warned not to take advantage of the chaotic situation to transfer such weapons, described by the IDF as "equilibrium breakers" — weapons that would pose an unusually serious threat to the Israeli Homefront (chemical weapons) or undermine the IDF's ability to operate (anti-aircraft missiles and land-to-sea missiles).
These concerns peaked recently, as was widely reported earlier this week. But contrary to the explicit concern that chemical weapons will be transferred from Syria into Hezbollah's hands, the reports of the attack in Syria on Wednesday paint an entirely different picture: If you take the official announcement by the Syrian military (that Israel allegedly bombed a research facility near Damascus) into account, together with the other reports, it appears that though the Israel Air Force bombed several targets in Syria, none had anything to do with non-conventional weapons.
Various media outlets reported that the main target of the attack was most likely a convoy carrying components for advanced surface-to-air missiles — Russian made SA-17 missiles — that Hezbollah apparently tried to covertly transfer into Lebanon.
Just like in previous incidents, Israeli officials refrained from commenting on the events, not even dropping heavy hints. That is how Israel behaved in 2007 when (according to foreign reports) the IAF attacked a secret Syrian nuclear reactor. Then, like now, the objective is to refrain from making declarations that could spark conflicts, or escalate tensions, and potentially devolve into all out war. If the events really transpired the way the reports describe, the only hope is that the other side will be able to contain the attack rather than be dragged into retaliation.
As of Wednesday, it appeared as though Syria and Lebanon were trying to avoid a confrontation. As the hours pass, the threat of all-out war, which neither northern neighbor wants, diminishes greatly. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad fears that a war with Israel would be the final blow to end his precarious regime. Hezbollah fears that a war with Israel would severely damage its military and civilian power in Lebanon. Even Iran's declarations, that an Israeli strike in Syria would prompt an immediate Iranian response, seemed empty on Wednesday. Tehran understands that a war, now, could sabotage their regional objectives.
Despite this analysis however, the threat of retaliation has not completely passed. In similar instances in the past, Hezbollah chose to respond with an eye-for-an-eye policy. When Hezbollah's military targets are hit, Hezbollah tends to hit the enemy's military targets in response. Our hope is that the IDF will remain strong in defense of Israel, and continue to keep a watchful eye on Syria and Lebanon to ensure that the transfer of weapons, which apparently suffered a setback on Wednesday, won't resume at a later date.