Israeli Gen. Charges Syria Chem Weapons Use: Is Israel Allying with Sunnis to overthrow Alawites, cut off Iran?

The official stance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of Israel toward the Syrian civil war has been one of announced “neutrality.” Netanyahu’s position contrasts with that of his political ally, Avigdor Lieberman, an East Bloc Neoconservative who has been arguing for supporting the rebels.

There are some signs, however, that Israel may be rethinking its neutrality and perhaps preparing to join in an effort to arm one of the rebel factions, the “moderates” of the south. The latter are already receiving support from Jordan and Saudi Arabia, who have been alarmed by the rise of the Nusra Front, a radical self-proclaimed al-Qaeda affiliate. On his trip to the UK last week, Netanyahu for the first time admitted the possibility that Israel might arm some of the rebels.

Jordan and Saudi Arabia are allegedly attempting to build up a non-fundamentalist guerrilla group in the Deraa region, in hopes it can take over Damascus and marginalize the fundamentalist Nusra Front.

Then on Tuesday, Brig. Gen. Utai Brun, the country’s top military analyst, alleged that the Syrian state had deployed poisonous sarin gas on more than one occasion in mid-July last year. The Israelis are aware that President Obama designated chemical weapons use as a red line that would trigger a US intervention.

NBC News reports:

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Israel’s primary concerns in Syria are not Syria but Iran and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Israel fears that Syria will find a way to transfer chemical weapons to Hizbullah in Lebanon. Israeli military leaders typically attempt to prevent developments that might limit their freedom of action. a Hizbullah armed with chemicals might deter Israeli military action against the Shiite party-militia.

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Meanwhile, Hizbullah has openly joined Syrian government troops in the campaign to take Qusair near Homs away from the rebels. Aljazeera English reports:

Even as Israel may be turning against the Damascus regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a fundamentalist Sunni preacher in Sidon has called on Lebanese Sunnis to fight a holy war against the Baath regime in Syria. Young Sunni men were said to be signing up on Tuesday, even as many Lebanese Shiites continue to support Bashar al-Assad.

Hizbullah is the most effective Arab fighting force still hostile to Israel. It is allied with Iran, which the Israeli leadership says is their country’s chief enemy.

23 Responses

  1. Is there any reason to think that acknowledged Israeli support of any faction would not destroy any viability they might have as participants in a future ruling coalition, or would the dynamics of a new Syria allow for such a thing?

    • So who’s acknowledging?

      Israel has lines into sections of the Syrian opposition. You can’t go by what people say publicly.

    • My concern exactly.

      However, the mere supplying of arms to the Free Syrian Army via Turkish cargo transport planes cannot be equated with a military alliance between Israel and the Free Syrian Army. In other words Israeli influence would be minimal in the FSA under such a scenario.

  2. Serious question: why would Saudi Arabia, perhaps the most fundamentalist government in the world, be interested in setting up a “non-fundamentalist” rebel group?

    Another: how does one in fact distinguish fundamentalist from non-fundamentalist groups? By their explicit claims to be tied to al-Qaeda groups?

    • Saudi Wahhabism is pro-monarchy, pro status quo, but very puritanical.

      The Nusra Front is anti-status quo, pro-al-Qaeda and very puritanical.

      Saudis have for some time preferred secularists to political Islam of a radical sort. They prefer the PLO to Hamas, preferred Mubarak to Muslim Brotherhood, etc.

      • The internal fault lines in Saudi Arabia run deep. I don’t read much analysis of them any more, but the monarchy and the Wahhabi clerics have been in an *uneasy* alliance for quite a long time, arguably since before the founding of the state. They don’t have the same views.

        What the rest of the population of Saudi Arabia thinks is yet another matter (several other matters, really), and I would love to know. Frustration with the monarchy led to bin Laden’s creation of al-Qaeda and most of the 9/11 hijackers were from Sauid Arabia — so that’s one group! Then there are the women demanding the right to drive cars. There are clearly multiple groups with their own viewpoints, allied neither with the monarchy nor with the Wahhabis, and that’s before we get to the Shia.

        But I don’t understand the internal politics of Saudi Arabia. Which is unfortunate because I think it’s going to become *very important* the moment the oil money stops papering over the differences.

    • “…how does one in fact distinguish fundamentalist from non-fundamentalist groups? By their explicit claims to be tied to al-Qaeda groups?”

      Not all Islamic fundamentalists are pro-al-Qaeda.

      Al-Qaeda is a Sunni Muslim extemist death cult. It engages in no known diplomatic contacts with the West.

      Hezbollah is a fundamentalist group that is Shi’ite in orientation that seeks to establish an Islamic state in Lebanon modeled after Iran; it enjoys not only popular support but has gained Islamic Jihad is a different Shi’ite group that is active in both Lebanon and Gaza that is extremist in orientation but has been known to involve itself in the political processes and is amenable to negotiation with Western interests.

      It is important to distinguish between moderate and extremist elements within the various fundamentalist movements in the Islamic world.

      • My sentence relative to Hezbollah was partially cut-off inadvertently.

        I meant to say that Hezbollah has gained a significant number of elected seats in the Lebanese parliament in addition to fielding a militia. The Amal political party, led by Nabih Berri, is an example of Shi’ite moderate elements who are also popular within Lebanon but believe in a secular form of government.

      • Hizb-Allah acknowledged long time ago that it doesn’t want (or cannot) establish an Islamic sate in Lebanon due to its structure.

        Islamic Jihad which at the difference of Hamas is still “aligned” to Syria/Iran is a SUNNI Palestinian group.

        • Islamic Jihad in Palestine is composed of Sunni adherents in a religious sense, however their former leader Fathi Shaqaqi adopted the Shi’ite political model of Islamic revolution implemented in Iran as the standard for revolution for Sunni adhrents as well.

        • Also see the January 17, 2012 article in Haaretz authored by Avi Issacharoff, “Hamas Brutally Assaults Shi’ite Worshippers In Gaza”: link to wwrn.org

          That article is quoted:

          “Gazan sources told Haaretz that Islamic Jihad now contains a group of converts to Shia Islam. The group is led by Iyad al-Hosni, also a convert……..”

  3. One correction: the name is Ital Brun not Utai.
    two thoughs:
    1. Not for the first time an arab leader is using deadly chemical weapons on his people. So would they think twice to use it on their enemies (AKA Israelis).
    2. If Obamah will not act against Syria upon the use of chemical weapons as he said before, can we (the Israelis) be sure he is going to do everything necesarry to stop Iran from a neuclar bomb !

    • As to your first point:

      If you are referring to the poison gas employed at Halabja by the Saddam Hussein regime, the targets were not fellow Arabs but rather Kurds – who had been historically antagonistic to the Baathists in Iraq.

      I do not believe that Assad would want to employ chemical weapons against Israel, which would provoke a massive retaliation from the Israeli government at a time when the Assad regime is trying to militarily undertake a counter-offensive against the rebels.

      As to your second point:

      I do not believe the limited, especially non-verifiable, use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army would cause Obama to initiate a military confrontation with Syria.

      I believe that one of the key reasons Obama was re-elected was that he helped keep American servicemen out of harms way during his first term in office – and he realizes this.

      The last thing that Obama would want to do is send the U.S. Armed Forces into combat against the Syrian army and create a backlash from left-leaning Americans that have helped him stay in power. The spectre of news reports of death tolls of U.S. servicemen in Vietnam, and later, Iraq and Afghanistan are things that remain anathema to the American public.

  4. It is a bit confusing having a mix of all these people, the Wahhabis, the Qataries, the Jordan folks, the non-Nusras and the Nusras, the pro and the anti al-Qaeda, the Turkish rulers and more, and our money some where in the mix! In the mean time, the Syrian state and people are being destroyed, literally. Of course, Israel is always there to make sure to aid the process. A very sad picture, indeed!

  5. In light of Hizbollah’s recent moves as discussed here, I feel that it is important to note the Lebanese Sunni youth from Saida who have been signing up to enter armed conflict with Hizbollah affilates in Syria (al-arabiya.net) I feel that these changes simply amplify the notion that the Syrian War is in danger of engulfing the political arena of Lebanon entirely.

  6. I was on Israel’s Channel 1 tonight in the same studio as Ron Ben Yishai, one of the most security correspondents from yediot ahronot. According to him, Israel believes that Assad has used chemical weapons, but Obama is not acknowledging it bcs its not the same scale as Halabja. This is worrying Israel because Obama is not abiding by his red line on Syria, this could mean that he won’t abide by his red line on Iran.

    I think Israel will be very careful who it sides with. You certainly get the feeling here that Israel and Iran both wouldn’t mind if Syria is split up after Assad’s fall. It would serve their security interests.

    • >Israel and Iran both wouldn’t mind if Syria is split up after Assad’s fall. It would serve their security interests.

      Identical to the Bush cabal’s ‘a little destabilizatin might be a good thing’. Well that has worked out pretty well hasn’t it. Israel’s policies are myopic. The Bush doctrine for Iraq pusued every opportunity to divide and conquer every power faction, bad and good–manipulate them all because we know best. In the end Bush conquered none of them and left a country in ruins that formerly had attributes American’s generally approve of, like education, health care, clean water, a middle class, economic and social infrastructure that worked, and international trade.

      Divide and conquer in Bush practice meant divide and fester because because he authorized the deliberate destruction of basic societal infrastructure (war crime), and reconstruction was never more than a PR scheme to conceal contractor profiteering. A septic, gangrenous Iraq will be the Bush legacy and if Israelis doesn’t change course by throwing out the yahoos in charge the same scenario will be its downfall. The end game will be Israel surounded by septic ‘states’ filled with understandably angry fathers, mothers, children, and grandparents–that’s pretty much everyone isn’t it–with no border control (fluid situation), titular dysfunctional ‘governments’ (the good guys), plenty of weapons (economic aid), violently contentious factions (the bad guys), no economy (sanctions), and plenty of Al Qaeda clones (metasticizing security needs–remove your underwear please). All the weapons in the world won’t save your leg if it is green from toe to hip.

  7. Would Dr Cole like to recap the 15 year Lebanese civil war for his readers and explain why the Syrian conflict will not be as long, bloody, destructive or pointless?

  8. FWIW, there appears to be independent evidence of the chemical weapons use by the Assad government in Syria — reports NOT sourced from the (untrustworthy) Israeli government.

    I read about this last week — I believe it was a UN investigation? See if you can dig up the reports.

    Obviously Obama doesn’t give a damn.

  9. On another point, I cannot figure out what the heck Putin is up to. There is really no benefit I can see for Russia, long-run, medium-run, or short-run, in supporting Assad. All the Middle Eastern countries have given up on Assad except Iran; Iran supports Assad because of Sunni-Shia politics and because of Hizbollah in Lebanon.

    But Iran’s support is unimportant, because Iran was never going to have a major effect on the outcome or the process of the war. Russia’s support *matters* because Russia is still a Great Power, and I am pretty sure that only Russia’s opposition prevents there from being a “no-fly zone” over Syria right now. (Turkey could enforce such a zone all by itself.)

    And I just don’t see what’s in it for Russia at this point. Apart from giving Putin even more of a “We Love Brutality” reputation, what’s in it for him? I don’t think that reputation is a good idea even in Russia; Putin is no Stalin and even Stalin had to watch his back for people who would have been happy to kill and replace him.

    • Re: Nathanael
      According to some of the coverage on the recent Boston bombings, a number of people are pointing towards a more destabilised Chechnya if the (fundamentalist) rebels win out in Syria. Putin and the Russians have had a tough enough time keeping a grip on the Chechens as is, and so it only makes sense that they would try to avoid anything to further add to their own, domestic, issues.

      There was in fact a post on this site about just this.
      link to juancole.com

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