Posted by Joshua on Friday, May 4th, 2007
A UN official from UNESCWA sent me this report that he helped write, assessing the economic and political prospects for Lebanon, the Occupied Territories, and Iraq for the six months ending in Dec. 2006. He wrote:
I am in the process of preparing the political part of the new report that covers the period January-June 2007…. I have a notion (no substantial information) that a Syrian-Israeli war could breakout in the immediate future, possibly instigated by the Syrian side. I would very much appreciate you view on this (even on the blog).
Here is my answer:
I have read your report with interest. The gloomy economic and political outlook for the future seems to be materializing, as you predicted.
As for war, I do not think there will be fighting between Syria and Israel this summer, or anytime in the near future. Why?
Neither country would benefit.
Syria is too weak to contemplate war. It would be thrashed. Yes, it is getting its aging missile stock refreshed by Russia, but these can only annoy and create panic, they cannot win a war or defeat Israel, as we saw with Hizbullah. Furthermore, the entire world would probably cheer on the Israelis as they bombed Syria. Israel would not be forced to stop the bombing, as it was in Lebanon, where even the US and Israel were concerned about damaging the government and growing international pressure. There would be little pressure placed on Israel to stop bombing until it had reduced Syria’s infrastructure to a farethewell. President Asad has promised his people that he will produce 7% economic growth in two years time. Syrians would not forgive him if he takes Syria down the Lebanon path.
Since 1973, Syria has wisely learned that it can only fight Israel through proxies, and then, only in a limited fashion in order to avoid military retaliation.
Asad needs to look a bit warlike in the Golan to remind Israel that it will pay a price for refusing to return the Golan. Most importantly, the old taunt used by many over the last decades — “Asad asad bi Luban; Asad, arnab bi Golan” – Asad is a lion in Lebanon; Asad is a rabbit in Golan – was revived by the Syrian opposition during the summer war to good effect. It had the ring of truth. Asad needs to look more like a lion in Golan. All the same, he cannot afford to act in any manner other than as a rabbit.
Israel will not go to war because it has nothing to gain. Syria cannot challenge it in the Golan, even with a few extra missiles. Syria’s air force is an antiquated mess and no threat. There is no reason for Israeli preemption.
Israel likes the Asad regime. All wings of intelligence and military have repeatedly confirmed that any conceivable alternative to Asad would be worse for Israel. Israel is well served by threats of war however, which help deflect growing internal demands that Olmert open a dialogue and peace negotiations with Syrians, which Bashar has been trying to sell to the Israeli public. Also, It reminds the US that Israel is an embattled ally. Moreover, It may have been thought a good strategy to produce a bit of rally-around-the-leader effect for the P.M.
I do not believe there is a general popular desire in Israel to return the Golan to Syria in exchange for the assurances Syria could provide. Fanning the fear of war is useful to defuse local or international pressure on Israel to open talks with Syria.
In short, I cannot see any advantage to either side by war — saber rattling, yes. That is my appreciation of the situation.
I think the entire region and the US will place great pressure on both sides to keep their cool. No one is in a warlike mood anymore.