Will There be a War this Summer?

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.

Comments (37)

Leila said:

You said: “I do not think there will be fighting between Syria and Israel this summer, or anytime in the near future.”

I say: “From your lips to God’s ear…”

May 4th, 2007, 7:25 am


Milli Schmidt said:

Slightly depressing to think of UN officials preparing reports on unsubstantiated notions, which in this case are completely mistaken. Glad s/he double-checked.

May 4th, 2007, 9:34 am


someone said:

Dear professor Landis
First of all, let me thank you for your wonderful blog and the great work that you are doing through your blog. For a long time I wanted to write you some kind of an appreciation and thank you for a job well done.
I discovered your blog few years ago through all4syria and with time your blog became one of my main sources of information about Syria.
What made your blog unique is the reality in which you address the problems of Syria. One of the things that one recognizes in your blog is that you are not very harsh on the syrian system because you realize that there is no viable alternative to it. You are married to a Syrian, speak good Arabic (although not perfect) and best of all you lived in Syria for a certain period, all of this gave you an insight in to the fabric and mentality of the Syrian society, form the people who live in the mountains of Lattakia to the suburbs of Damascus. Because of your attitude toward the system many people accuse you of being loyal to the regime, meanwhile, you know, that to have democracy in Syria you must have some infrastructures to support democracy. Now, someone will jump and say it is all the fault of the regime. there is some truth to this, but I have encountered Syrian peasants who believe that girls should not exceed the sixth grade in the their education ,adding to this, Loyalty in Syria is for the tribe and sect not the state and we find this all over the third world countries. Someone will say what this got to do with Democracy? The answer is simple. Democracy is an end product, when you have a well educated, enlightened population you will have a democratic society. Another one will say the regime is responsible for the backwardness of the country. This is not true; the people who are ruling Syria are Syrians, not from Mars, so the harm is coming from within. The former ruler of Syria established a system that every body likes. On the external front, the system realized that it can not always be in a constant confrontation with the West, so it always managed not to upset the major powers while keeping the façade of total independence. On the internal front, The ruling elite allied its self with the wealthy elite and both of them enjoyed the spoils of having a closed economic system and gave a portion from the pie to the ignorant masses through easy government employment and subsidizing basic materials like fuel and food. This might have gone for ever if not for the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Globalization. The system in Syria is weak but not dead, its weakness is exactly like the weakness of the Ottoman Empire, where we had many factors that kept the Ottoman Empire alive in spite of it’s weakness, the same applies to the Syrian regime.
The economic hardships in Syria are the same in other neighboring countries like Jordan and Egypt but there is a difference. The majority of Arab regimes are supported in one way or another by the West and this relationship is giving a life line to these regimes. In the past there were four Arab countries that openly challenged the West; they were Libya, Sudan, Iraq and Syria. Libya raised the white flag and stood in the line for rehabilitation, Sudan is falling apart and we all now the story of Iraq, so Syria stands alone. The joke is the regime in Syria is trying to lean on Iran and Venezuela in hope they will come to the rescue and pay the growing oil bill of Syria. Guess what? They are not.
Each day the plight of the Syrian regime is growing through the Oil problem, very few people, in Syria, realize the huge deficit that Syria faces in it’s oil consumption, if this problem is not settled within the next five years, Syria will be heading into troubled waters.
In the End,I know this comment has nothing to do with your recent post (which was excellent) but I had the chance to express my opinion and I took this chance through your blog.
so thanks and Keep up the good work.

May 4th, 2007, 12:47 pm


K said:

Prof Landis’s opinion will be very disappointing to fools like Ausamaa who are clamoring for Syria to attack Israel.

May 4th, 2007, 1:17 pm


majedkhaldoun said:

this assesment clearly depict the syrian army as a weak one, they can annoy Isreal but they can not win a war, if there is war Syria will be thrashed, other countries will cheer,as isreal bomb Syria, there is going to be no pressure on Isreal to stop bombing Syria until it had reduced syria’s infrastructure to a faretheewell.
no one must forget that weakness invite aggression, and that is a cause of war, yes Isreal missed a golden chance to fight syria last summer, they thought that an alternative is worse to Isreal than Asad, but they deprived themself of victory, it is clearly now, that they achieved no clear success, Olmert said he plan to correct the mistake, obviously this mean another war, where Syria is involved.
Joshua said “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”
what proxy? with the UNIFIL HA will not be able to hurt Isreal,like before,the only proxy Syria is left with, is sending fighters to Iraq, HA is not a threat to Isreal, by this I mean,it can not attack Isreal, it can defend Lebanon, this is different, it can only exercise power by annoying other lebanese sects (ma kider li hamato,qam la mratu), HA is not a proxy power to help Syria anymore,as far as Isreal, Asad has to keep things the same, or give concessions if he wants to get part of the Golan back, last july war was in fact a defeat to both Isreal and Syria.
Stagnation may not last, change is inevitable, the sudden increase of Syria’ population, by the Iraqi, is going to cause economic disaster,to syria, this will have a deletarious effect on social,religous, and economic level, troubles and Fitna, will cause people to whimper,complain,then there will be uproar,and violence.

May 4th, 2007, 2:53 pm


Alex said:

Joshua I totally agree with your analysis on Syria’s side. Despite the impression that some like to have regarding the Syrian regime (stupid, foolish, murderous …) the regime is still focused mostly on stability.

As for Israel … I am not so sure. The United States? .. I am not so sure.

It was only last summer that Chirac (the wise, experienced mideast expert) suggested to Israel to bomb Syria instead of Lebanon. Articles by a number of leading newcon “intellectuals” showed that they were disappointed that Israel did not finish the job… so to assume that everyone is as wise as the Syrians is a mistake

: )

That sounded so good !

May 4th, 2007, 4:33 pm


Joshua said:

Dear Someone,
Many thanks for your kind remarks and for your thoughtful analysis of the Syrian situation. I hope we will hear more from you. Best, Joshua

May 4th, 2007, 5:05 pm


ausamaa said:

Syria launching a War against Israel?

Syria is not that strong or that stupid. But if Syria needed to use military pressure and “light up” the military front, it only needs to “finger” Israel in a way that Israel either swollows its pride and do nothing, or, attack Syria’s allies or Syria, which give a good pretext for Syria to “respond”. And there is a big difference between “launching” a war, and “responding” to “enemy aggression”.

May 4th, 2007, 7:40 pm


ausamaa said:

But if anybody is “Expecting” a War, Israel would never disappoint them:

The Next Mideast War?

By David Makovsky
Washington Post, May 3, 2007

“Israeli officials say Moscow is once again telling Damascus that Israel has plans to attack Syria. Israeli security officials say that Syria’s new military deployments reflect this Russian advice. Concerned that such a deployment might dangerously turn from defensive to offensive, Olmert took the unusual step of declaring last month that Israel has no desire to start a war with Syria. But the prospects for miscalculation remain high. Syria believes that Israel sees war as a means of regaining a deterrent that was weakened last summer, and Israel believes that Syria sees its relationship with Iran and Hezbollah as a winning combination.”


May 4th, 2007, 7:53 pm


K said:

Israel definitely should have attacked Syria instead of destroying Lebanon’s infrastructure in the July War. It is testament to the Olmert government’s cowardliness that Israel attacked helpless Lebanon while leaving Syria off the hook, despite Israel’s full (and often stated) knowledge that Syria is behind Hizballa. Instead, the Israelis were repelled and Hizballa quickly replenished its stash via Syria. For their cowardly decision to spare Syria from attack, the Israelis deserve their defeat.

May 4th, 2007, 8:03 pm


ausamaa said:

Why dont you ask Chirac again to do something about Syria before he departs. He still got some time left. You know, “mistakes” can be corrected. Maybe Israel will be more “positive” this time.

May 4th, 2007, 8:10 pm


Alex said:


There are three types of writers behind all those recent articles about Syria’s intentions to launch a war against Israel this summer:

1) Peace seeking writers (Haaretz types) want to warn those in Israel who are ignoring Syria’s calls for peace on the grounds that Syria is not a serious threat. So they are trying to tell their people that Syria is indeed a threat and we should try to sign peace with Syria and give them back the Golan if we have to.

2) Those who want Israel to attack Syria … you can find this type in Israel and in the United States… they are looking for WMD type of an excuse to attack Syria .. or at the least to give the Syrians the impression that Israel seems to be looking for an excuse to attack them… that can scare the Syrians (supposedly) and make them stop “supporting terror”

3) Idiots … Idiots who do not understand Syria or the middle East but continue to write stupid things… like Syria’s intention to launch a big missile attack on Israel this summer.

May 4th, 2007, 8:12 pm


Alex said:


I’m at work now, so I won’t bore you with my long comments, but I just hope that you will learn that the biggest mistake is to expect things to be settled by force.

May 4th, 2007, 8:21 pm


ausamaa said:


Let the “hopefulls”, or “idiots” continue dreaming. As far as I am concerned, the worst is over, and it did not pay off as was expected or “hoped”. They will never give up totally, but apparently they have decided that now is the time for different approaches. Let us see..

The only danger sign I see is a miscalculation on Isreal’s part by trying to regain by force its lost myth of absolute supremasy. Although I do not think they are fully recovered, adventerous enough, or dump enough to do something like that now when everyone is chanting peace melodies.

May 4th, 2007, 8:28 pm


Alex said:


I hope so, but again you are assuming logical thinking and decision making.

Bitter people don’t always think straight. Especially if they are the same people who did not think straight before they “lost”.

And the Middle East can be dragged into major chaos without difficulty … another Hariri style assassination will do.

Then the “murderous Syrian regime” will be really challenged just in time when they are trying to establish better relations with Sarkozy/Royal or with president Bush’s successor.

May 4th, 2007, 9:02 pm


Philip I said:


An excellent analysis of both sides’ perceptions, positions and options with which I entirely agree.

Where we would probably part company is in the realm of what might have been. The picture you paint suggests that Syria has, since 1973, managed to hold the balance of power by the skin of its teeth, that it has had no other options or has exhausted all other options for the return of the Golan.

Let’s not dwell too much on the past but it is worth making the point at least that Syria could have built a much more professional army since 1973 but for corruption and divided loyalties.

In 1967 Egypt had a fairly modern airforce, much of which was destroyed on the ground. So when we talk about the balance of power, it is mostly about the quality of people and organisation. Liberating the Golan by peaceful means requires real military strength. The Israelis still see the Syrian army as a paper tiger, so where is their incentive to make real peace based on the return of the Golan?

We all know that Syria is capable of engaging in proxy wars but that is no more than a thorn in the Israelis’ side.

Any peace deal in our current military situation would probably amount to a humiliating surrender. We can talk about confidence building measures ..etc but without real military strength behind them (on both sides) they would be very easy to destroy by a few hardliners on the Israeli side.

May 4th, 2007, 9:58 pm


K said:


You’re right about force. Tell that to Hizballa and their Syrian masters. Syria cannot use Lebanon as its battleground for harassing Israel, at no cost. Syria cannot use Lebanese proxies for its own interests, without a price. If Syria wants to be part of the axis of “resistance”, Syria should be prepared to suffer the consequences. But to celebrate “victories” vicariously through Lebanon, should not be an option.

May 5th, 2007, 12:35 am


trustquest said:

Dear Joshua,
Here is my reason for no war no peace situation which going to last for a while.
Israel, America and the Syrian regime can not afford opening any another front, this will invite insurgent, resistance and fanatics, that is a strategic fact.
All noises we hear talking about wars are scenarios could be played of to make some moves and change public opinion.

May 5th, 2007, 12:45 am


GPC said:

At the sound of a serious fart, I guarantee you that the UNIFIL will be nowhere to be found. If this is the safeguard you were hoping for, oof yaba oof!

May 5th, 2007, 1:18 am


majedkhaldoun said:

I am going to remember your guarantee, and very much depend on it.

about the impending Sarkozi victory, this is dangerous man, his positions on different issues may hurt the Arab, and I am expecting trouble.

About Erdogan in turkey, I wonder if he was expecting all these commotions, he has a lot of hard work,ahead of him.

May 5th, 2007, 1:47 am


norman said:

Israel might be trying to build up Syria’s threat to justify a preimptive war against Syria in the Summer.

May 5th, 2007, 1:57 am


Enlightened said:

Been away for a week, my wife and i had a baby boy our first child!

Just read the latest post, I am one of those commentators on this site that has lost family members during the civil war in Lebanon, my wife and her family were stuck in Lebanon during the summer war, they made it across the border to Syria and stayed with family members in Damascus until I was able to get them a flight out back to Australia, the hospitality and warmth they received from the Syrian population warmed my heart about the humanity and hospitality left in the Arab tribe.

For those amongst you wishing a Israeli attack on Syria, I cannot believe (and i suspect that they are Lebanese) that given the death and descruction witnessed in Lebanese history that those egging an attack would wish the same on the Syrian population ( who are not responsible for anything that their regime does). Have we not learnt anything? Most on this site know I am not a supporter of the regime, but the Syrian people are another matter, I do not wish them ill. So for those amongst you who are clamouring for an Israeli onslaught against Syria, pull your heads in, fate has a funny way for your wishes to rebound on you. My parents are Lebanese.

May 5th, 2007, 2:10 am


Joshua said:

Enlightened, Mabrouk. May he live to be 100 and bring you nothing but joy. We have missed you and your wisdom. Best, Joshua

May 5th, 2007, 5:07 am


Alex said:


1000,000 Mabrouks!

May the experience of being a father make you even more enlightened.

And thank you for this most wonderful comment.

May 5th, 2007, 6:28 am


Innocent_Criminal said:

ummm, why are we not discussing the Rice-Mu3allem meeting????

May 5th, 2007, 10:26 am


DJ said:

Josh, how do you perceive Egypt’s stand shall a war between Syria and Israel (God forbids) breaks out?

May 5th, 2007, 10:34 am


Bakri said:

Time salutes Arar

Magazine names Canadian tortured in Syria one of world’s most influential people

OTTAWA — Maher Arar has been named one of the most influential people on the planet by Time magazine, joining an A-list that includes Hollywood hottie Leonardo DiCaprio and popular talk show host Rosie O’Donnell.

Arar, jailed and tortured in Syria after he was falsely tagged a terrorist in 2002, earned a spot on the prestigious list of men and women whose “power, talent or moral example is transforming our world.”

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy penned the tribute text on Arar for the magazine, which hits newsstands today.

“Maher Arar’s case stands as a sad symbol of how we have been too willing to sacrifice our core principles to overarching government power in the name of security, when doing so only undermines the principles we stand for and make us less safe,” the Vermont Democrat writes.

Also on Time’s list of 100 most influential people are the Queen, presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and YouTube founders Steve Chen and Chad Hurley.

The Stephen Harper government awarded an official apology and $10.5 million in compensation to Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, after he was fully exonerated by a Canadian judicial inquiry. But the married father of two still can’t attend the Time magazine ceremony because he remains on a U.S. watchlist.

U.S. lawyer Maria LaHood said that as Arar is recognized as a “world hero,” the U.S. government continues to hide behind secrecy to avoid accountability.

“It shows the stark contrast between his courage and strength and, frankly, the weakness of the U.S. officials that are responsible for having him tortured and keeping him on this watchlist,” she said in an interview from New York.

The U.S. has still not provided answers on why Arar was sent to Syria where he would be tortured, and an American court threw out his lawsuit on grounds of national security. But Mahood hopes a pending appeal — or a change in White House administration — will finally yield answers.

Arar, who is now working on his PhD, said he is honoured to be included on the Time list.

“I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the people and organizations that have supported me and my family throughout this struggle for justice,” he said in a prepared statement.

The magazine’s list includes 71 men and 29 women from 29 countries.

May 5th, 2007, 12:26 pm


ausamaa said:


The only peculiarity I noticed was that Condi seemed very cheerful at the Press Conference she held on Saturday in contrast to the stony-faced appearence of her entourage at the Conference table. Maybe Syria and Iran are playing the good cop bad cop routine.

If you want an “analysis” that says nothing in the end, you can visit the usual ultimate source Ahmad Al Jarallah from Al Siyassah newspaper at: http://www.elaph.com/ElaphWeb/NewsPapers/2007/5/231347.htm

Or, better yet, wait till Chenny comes out here later on. He seems eager to find out exactly what did Condi say and hear at Sharm El Shiekh…and to “correct” any “misconceptions” anyone may have had, if needed.

May 5th, 2007, 1:14 pm


Ford Prefect said:

Alf Mabrook to you and your wife and 3uqbal many more in health and prosperity.

May 5th, 2007, 1:27 pm


ugarit said:


“المرسوم خفض سن التكليف القصوى للخدمة الالزامية والاحتياطية من 52 عاما الى 42 عاما”

أصدر الرئيس بشار الأسد صباح اليوم السبت المرسوم التشريعي رقم 30 لعام 2007المتضمن قانون خدمة العلم متضمنا أحكاما وقواعد ونظم خاصة بخدمة العلم الالزامية والاحتياطية وتحديدا حول أرقام البدل النقدي للسوريين المقيمين في الدول العربية عدا لبنان والأجنبية ومدد اقاماتهم .

May 5th, 2007, 3:32 pm


K said:



If you read my comments carefully, I am not clamoring for Israel to attack Syria out of the blue. I’m saying, if Syria uses Lebanese assets as a pawn or proxy, it must shoulder some of the price, not leave Lebanon to foot the bill.

May 6th, 2007, 12:02 am


Enlightened said:

Thank you all for your best wishes! The boy was born in Masada hospital in melbourne so Sue can be near her family (Akbar a Jewish hospital, i couldnt profess my love for my Jewish brothers enough LOL )

Last night i watched the Doha debates on Tv (BBC), they had a very interesting debate about the Israel Lobby and how it stifles debates about the midlle east issue in the US. There were for 4 speakers one of which was Martin Indyk speaking for the negative (surprise, surprise) , but one speaker for the affirmative a Us academic by the name of Norman Finkelstein ( Josh do you know anything about him, in academic circles) his views are very interesting, Alex have you heard of him as well? It would be interesting to get his views on this blog, he really impressed me with his views on solving the issues in the ME.

I couldnt get a pen to get the link for the website or the debate, but i recommend some of you try and find it on the BBC website, the Oxford students passed the motion 66% to 34% that the lobby stifles debate in the US.

May 6th, 2007, 1:46 am


Alex said:

Thanks Enlightened.

I missed the last few Doha Debates, including the one you watched yesterday.

In a week, the latest debate (the one you watched) will be online on this page

You really like ME politics! … watching the Doha Debates one day after you had your first baby 😉

May 6th, 2007, 4:33 am


Akbar Palace said:


There are three types of writers behind all those recent articles about Syria’s intentions to launch a war against Israel this summer…

Ausamma responded:

The only danger sign I see is a miscalculation on Isreal’s part by trying to regain by force its lost myth of absolute supremasy. Although I do not think they are fully recovered, adventerous enough, or dump enough to do something like that now when everyone is chanting peace melodies.

Alex responded:


I hope so, but again you are assuming logical thinking and decision making.

Bitter people don’t always think straight. Especially if they are the same people who did not think straight before they “lost”.

And the Middle East can be dragged into major chaos without difficulty … another Hariri style assassination will do.

What you both fail to acknowledge is the Hezbollah component. Hezbollah is aching for a war, and they could start another war tomorrow if they wanted too.

May 6th, 2007, 5:29 pm


Alex said:


I think Nasrallah, who is a very strong man, would still like to eventually be able in te near future to walk outside his heavily fortified hiding place(s).

Subconsciously at least, I will assume he is not looking for another war.

Did you notice how he spoke about his respect for Israel’s handling of its mistakes in the last war?

May 6th, 2007, 6:35 pm


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