Monday July 28, 2014
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28.07.2014
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'Iran could have bomb within six months of decision'
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Dan Margalit

The struggle for credible deterrence

The important part of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's statements in Munich was not his thick hint that Israel carried out the air force attack in Syria to hinder the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon. Rather, Barak emphasized that the world should take the Israeli government at its word.

While many have picked apart Barak's comments over the weekend trying to find relevant comments on last week's widely reported airstrike, the defense minister, who is preparing to step down, underscored the fundamental issue: Israel stands by its statements.

Many politicians have exploited the IAF strike in Syria for their own purposes. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, for example, stressed that he would not tolerate attacks against Muslim nations and wondered why the airstrike was met with such a belated non response from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rushed to join the condemnation of Israel, too. It's all political.

But not completely.

Hostile nations want to see the political noose tightened around Israel. The goal of sending Syrian weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon is about credibility no less than it is about harming the Israel Air Force's freedom of movement in Lebanese skies, which also allows the IDF to maintain a watchful eye on Syria.

It is unreasonable to believe that Israel would overstep the 1974 armistice lines with Syria to invade its neighbor and establish a secure buffer zone, as The Sunday Times has reported. Most of the world has decided that the Golan Heights already serves that purpose, though they also believe that Israel's presence there is particularly problematic. The international community won't exactly jump to support the buffer zone's expansion toward Damascus. Israel will bolster its defenses along the Golan borders, which delineate the end of Israeli territory, but won't allow those borders to shift eastward.

The problem with military-political credibility is that the enemy could always put it to the test. Assad could bundle up some of these "game changer" weapons, or any such tool that hinders the IAF's freedom of movement, and goad the government day and night into deciding whether, in these circumstances, it should stand by its commitments and attack such convoys, while simultaneously having to cope with political animosity from countries like Turkey. Every time this happens, every time Israel attacks, the situation grows more volatile.

But Israel cannot relent. If it does not demonstrate its credibility in stemming the flow of dangerous Syrian weapons to Lebanon, then it will damage its deterrent capabilities elsewhere. The music emanating from such attacks is clamorous, but necessary. The IAF chants "we won't stop singing this song ..." no matter how unpleasant it may be.

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