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Israeli silence on Syria is strategic
Published Friday 01/02/2013 (updated) 09/02/2013 13:29
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The remnants of an Israeli tank pictured in the Golan Heights.
(MaanImages/File)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Military secrets are not readily divulged anywhere. But in Israel the blanket silence that envelops officials after an event like Wednesday's mysterious air strike on Syria reflects a deeper strategy involving both deterrence and outreach.

Beyond customary concern to safeguard spies and tactics for a government currently engaged in a graver confrontation with Iran, Israelis see such reticence as allowing their foes to save face and thus reduce the risk of reprisal and escalation.

Keeping silent, and so avoiding accusations of provocatively bragging of its exploits, also smoothes Israel's discreet cooperation with Muslim neighbours - such as Turkey or Jordan - who might otherwise feel bound to distance themselves.

Israeli leaders see benefit at home from not trumpeting successes that might give their public, or indeed Western allies, an exaggerated faith in their forces' capabilities.

And given international complaints that an unprovoked strike on a sovereign power breached international law, admitting the fact could only provide diplomatic complications.

So it was in 2007, when then prime minister Ehud Olmert muzzled his staff after the bombing of a suspected Syrian atomic reactor - a no-comment policy still in effect, though the United States has freely discussed that Israeli sortie and its target.

Olmert "wanted to avoid anything that might back Syria into a corner and force Assad to retaliate," the US president at the time, George W. Bush, would recall in his memoir.

A former Olmert aide confirmed that account, telling Reuters the premier also feared for close military ties with Turkey, whose territory the Israeli warplanes crossed en route to Syria.

Israelis were then - as now - poised for a threatened war against arch-enemy Iran. Olmert, skeptical about whether Israel had the clout to take on the distant and much larger adversary, did not want to mislead his public by playing up the successful but far smaller-scale sortie against Syria next door.

"We knew the message of what had taken place would be received by the Syrian and Iranian leaderships, and that was enough for us," the ex-aide said on condition of anonymity.

So if Israel did attack a Syrian arms convoy headed to Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas, or a military complex near Damascus, around dawn on Wednesday, as described by various sources, a similar logic may now be keeping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his cabinet and defense chiefs quiet.

Tackling the Iranian nuclear program is Israel's top priority, making it hesitant to lurch into other conflicts - especially with Syria's Assad government, an old enemy whose menace has faded, in Israeli eyes, with the two-year-old revolt.

Nor does Israel seek a flare-up with Hezbollah, which has mostly held fire since their 2006 war in southern Lebanon.

Lines and allies

Russia, Damascus's long-time arms supplier, said any Israeli air strike would amount to unacceptable military interference.

A former Israeli national security adviser, Giora Eiland, agreed. If Israel indeed attacked Syria, he said, eluding legal scrutiny might be a secondary reason for its silence: "The UN will never jump to back a military operation - certainly not by Israel," Eiland told Reuters.

Mindful, perhaps, of the self-imposed silence that would follow any raid, Israeli officials may have taken pains to offer justifications for any intervention in advance.

For months, they had been saying that if Iranian-backed Hezbollah, or Syria's Islamist rebels, acquired Syrian chemical weapons or advanced Russian missiles as Assad's grip faltered, that could pose a new order of threat to Israel - a "red line" the Netanyahu government said must not be crossed.

Such warnings came thick and fast early this week, then died out when news surfaced of Wednesday's strike - albeit some hours after it took place, a lag itself attesting to Israeli stealth and, perhaps, Syrian and Lebanese reluctance to go public.

Israel's military censors then quickly stepped in, barring media there from reporting anything on it from Israeli sources.

For Israeli media to have given even anonymous commentaries on an attack on Syria from Israeli officials, would only make it harder for the Israeli government to avoid provoking hostility from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and others on whom it is counting for at least quiescence in its struggle with mutual foe Tehran.

The former Olmert aide said Israel's secrecy policy amounted to "recognizing Middle East manliness" - not adding insult to injury for enemies and friends alike. Control of its own media by the censors reflected the fact that, "in this part of the world, many people see the messaging from a country's media as synonymous with the messaging from that country's government."

So whether Israel wants to avoid provoking Syria, Hezbollah and Iran, or alienating Turkey and the Sunni Arabs, the former aide said, "silence is the best way forward."
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1 ) frs / ...............
01/02/2013 14:00
mossad article/writer

2 ) Mel / USA
01/02/2013 16:25
Israel's always 'silent'in committing WAR CRIMES against neighboring SOVEREIGN states.That's to be expected! BUT NOT TOLERATED,BY OUR USG or UNSC!It's a collaboration of intentioned ignorance,coz Israel is ALLOWED 2 do as it pleases,where others are sanctioned for same.That's counter-productive to US Nat.Sec. &integrity(what we have left)!If Israel's going to ABUSE our military aid,against AEC act,Geneva Cons & ROE's,then USG"silence"over Zionism's offensives,is not"GOLDEN"but COLLUSIONIST!

3 ) Carlos / USA
01/02/2013 19:48
I think the middle east would be more peaceful if Hezbollah had defensive anti aircraft weapons. I know israel would quit violating Lebanese airspace. israel is fighting a losing battle on that front. I expect anyday or maybe a year, an israeli fighter will be downed over Lebanon. I wonder how silent israel will be then.

4 ) lordlucan / Botswana
01/02/2013 23:19
Another huge success for the IDF don't you think Mel/USA? And it will never be a classified war crime old chap, as Syria is still technically at war with Israel. Go plutz!

5 ) gabi / australia
02/02/2013 01:59
the "only democracy in the Middle East" is using censorship? What a surprise! But you pro-Zionists should realise this - (Israel won't tell you) according to news reports here, the convoy was carrying anti-aircraft missiles - DEFENSIVE WEAPONS. Wonder why Israel bombed them? Can only guess that sooner or later their aircraft will be flying over Lebanon, with no fear of anti-aircraft missiles being used against them . . .

6 ) Mel / USA
03/02/2013 19:19
1982,Israel launched an unprovoked war on Leb/Syri trying to change the regime to an Israeli-friendly Leb.Christian regime led by Gemayel,who was murdered,with Sharon telling Lebanon that PLO had done it(lies)hence the massacres of Leb.&Palestinians in Sabra/Shatila.USGovt did NOTHING about it,but SEND Israel 250 MILL.extra tax dollars,as reward!And,April 1983,304 people died in Leb.US Embassy/Marine barracks,ALL BECAUSE OF ISRAEL'S ACT'S OF WAR on Lebanon&SYRIA,for reckless regime change!ENUF!!

7 ) gabi / australia
04/02/2013 03:29
why would Israel want to prevent Lebanon from getting anti-aircraft missiles? All you Israel-apologists can answer?????

8 ) Mel and Carlos / Bozos Inc.
04/02/2013 20:53
2 & 3) Do be quiet you silly people. Just as with Hamas, any time Hezbollah gets hold of advanced weaponry that gives them the ability to attack Israel and defend against a counter attack we can expect the region to explode into a war that will make Syria look like a kindergarten scrap. The crap you guys write makes me wonder if that's not what you would like to see. Don't you realise those assholes would install the missiles in populated areas? or do you support the human shield tactic?

9 ) Mel / USA
07/02/2013 01:40
#8:Populated areas? You mean like Israel used chem-weps,Hell-Fire missiles,on Gaza against 1.7 million CIVILIANS?Or its miniature FISSILE weps(DIME)on a relatively unarmed Gaza population?Or the CLUSTER BOMBS Israel dropped on Lebanon?Or the supposed Syrian Chem/bio weps that US Congress is NOW trying to CONVINCE all,that Hezboallah is going to use on civilians,TEN YEARS TO THE WEEK(2003)after Colin Powell knowingly LIED to all,about Saddam's chem/bio WMD's? Total REPLAY BULLSH*T!

10 ) Johnny benson / USA
01/03/2013 23:13
Mel....Carlos......do you really think that any air defense system Russia has,could stop Israeli fighter planes.....dream on....first of all Lebanon and and beruit would be leveled........and Russia would give Israel the codes to make the systems go bad....at the end of it Russia and Israel are more connected then you may think

11 ) sam / canada
15/04/2013 00:38
And if Israel hit anti-aircraft weaponry is Syria, so what? Of course Israel doesnt want Hezbollah being able to hinder their air force in the same way that Iron Dome is hindering Hezbollah's rockets. What do you want? an arms race in the Mid east? We already have Iran pushing nukes and Syria with one of the biggest chemical weapons stockpiles in the world, now you want Hezbollah with anti aircraft missiles to add to their arsenal, take a wild guess what Israel will do i they get them...
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