The forecast for impending events in Syria contains a mixture of certainty and uncertainty. It appears that the U.S. Air Force and Navy will attack targets belonging to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime. The only questions are to what extent, what will be the defined goal of the mission and when will it start?
As is customary when a war is about to break out in the region, Arab officials have been issuing classic anti-Semitic statements. Although Israel has refrained from becoming involved in the fighting in Syria, it is serving as the target for spokesmen of the Syrian and Iranian governments. The Jews are always guilty and always responsible.
Similar things have happened in the past. During the First Gulf War, Saddam Hussein launched dozens of missiles at Israel, but then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir acceded to U.S. pressure and did not respond, leaving punishment of the Iraqi leader to the Americans. Shamir's decision to not retaliate against Iraq is still controversial. In my opinion, he acted wisely. But others disagree. And in any case, the current situation is different.
One should remember that when two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah in July 2006, the world accepted Israel's response, which included the destruction of the Shiite neighborhood of Dahiya in Beirut. The West, as well as most Arab countries, gave Israel a long leash for military action. Israel has only itself to blame for the failures of the Second Lebanon War. It had plenty of time to act.
The freedom of action Israel was given after the July 2006 kidnapping would be multiplied several times if it was forced to act against Assad, who has massacred his own citizens with chemical weapons. Given its aversion to the brutal Assad regime, the world would understand if Israel had to strike back after being attacked by Syria for no reason.
If I were Assad, I would listen very carefully to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, all of whom have said that any attack on Israel prompt a harsh response, which could mean the toppling of the Assad regime. Netanyahu essentially set a Syrian attack on Israel as a casus belli that would necessitate an all-out war against Assad. Netanyahu almost will not have a choice in such a scenario. But the situation likely won't come to that.
Assad is a mass murderer, but he is also rational. Israel has the power to eliminate his ability to fight against the rebels and determine the outcome of the Syrian civil war. Israel could paralyze Syria's airports and would certainly take the opportunity to reduce the strategic threat represented by Assad's chemical weapons arsenal.
One can understand the vigilance of the Israeli public, which is flooding gas mask distribution centers. But panic seems unnecessary. If Israel is attacked, the IDF will have great freedom of action and there will not be a repeat of the Second Lebanon War. Israel is not interested in a war, but if it is compelled to act, its response will be shorter and sharper than the pessimists are predicting.