The Impact on Israel of an American Attack on Syria

But even if the Assad regime would refrain from attacking Israel, there is still a chance that Hezbollah from Lebanon and Hamas from Gaza would attack the Jewish state. The chance of this happening  is also rather slim.  Hezbollah is heavily involved in Syria and, as a result, has lost much of its legitimacy in Lebanon. Attacking Israel would mean further eroding its standing in Lebanon, and a devastating retaliation on Lebanon by Israel would be blamed on Hezbollah.

Hamas has lost its Egyptian backer, deposed President Mohammad Morsi. It is now faced with a hostile Egyptian government, largely controlled by an unsympathetic Egyptian military. The need for a new patron, however, may lead Hamas into Tehran’s arms.  Still, it is unlikely that Hamas would provoke a fight with Israel. It is more likely that the Islamic Jihad terrorist groups would attack Israel from Gaza. Such an attack would result in painful retaliation that would garner little support for Hamas or Islamic Jihad in the Arab world.

Should Assad’s Syria, against all logic, attack Israel (and one has to assume that his logic is not the same as that of the Israelis and Americans) it would provide Jerusalem with a legitimate excuse to bring down the Assad regime. It is reasonable to presume that if Bashar Assad interprets the American attack as one that is meant to topple him, he might attack Israel savagely. After killing more than 100,000 of his own people, killing thousands of Israelis would bring him pleasure.

The demise of the Assad regime would be a major disaster for Assad’s Iranian patrons. Russia and China are unlikely to intervene. China does not have the global capabilities that the U.S. has, and Russia, while defending its Mediterranean port in Tartus, Syria, is committed to combating the dissemination of weapons of mass destruction along with the U.S. It will not risk a confrontation with the U.S. or send ground forces to Syria to defend Assad from Israel.

The reasonable assumption is that, at least officially, Damascus would not directly attack Israel, and neither would Hezbollah. The Iranian paymasters, nevertheless, might push Syria or Hezbollah to engage Israel. Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, knows that he may lose a great deal by attacking Israel, so he might sub-contract an attack on Israel to smaller, lesser-known groups. Additionally, Hezbollah might transfer weapons from Syria into Lebanon. In both cases, the IDF is committed to acting decisively. The transfer of lethal weapons to Lebanon is a red line for Israel.

Attacking Assad’s Syria is not a passionate humanitarian or principled move by President Obama.  He would rather stay away from another Middle Eastern involvement.  But, in this case, his credibility is on the line. The attack, if it comes, would weak and limited in scope, and it would not seek to topple Assad. A U.S. attack on Syria would serve as a symbolic gesture towards Iran by demonstrating the reach of our military.  Iran’s commander of the Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, is concerned about it. Hestated on August 29 that a U.S. attack on Syria would mean the "imminent destruction" of Israel. He warned that “Syria will turn into a more dangerous and deadly battlefield than the Vietnam War.”

Israel has to face an implacable enemy, not only in Syria’s Assad, but in Iran’s nuclear and conventional power. Israel cannot, therefore, afford half measures by the Obama administration or Washington’s  miscalculations in Syria.