At Wednesday night’s Yad Vashem ceremony marking the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – if past speeches are a gauge – will touch on the theme that one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that Israel can, in the final analysis, only rely on itself.
If, as the Russians, Syrians, Iranians and even the Americans said on Monday, Israel was indeed responsible for the predawn attack on the T-4 airbase near Homs in Syria, it is a sign that Netanyahu means what he says every year in those speeches.
Syria claims U.S. launched missile strike on air base; Pentagon denies it, April 9, 2018 (Reuters)
Netanyahu and senior members of his cabinet have warned repeatedly over the last number of months that Israel has red lines in Syria, and one of those is that it will not accept or allow Iran to establish a permanent military presence there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has listened politely to Netanyahu say this in any number of face-to-face meetings and telephone conversations but has done nothing to curb Iran’s advances inside Syria. On the contrary, he met last week in Ankara with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and seems to have begun carving up Syria among them.
US President Donald Trump, too, has listened politely to Netanyahu talk about Israel’s concerns and red lines in Syria. Nevertheless, he announced last week his desire to bring the 2,000 US troops there back home as soon as possible, something that would leave a gaping vacuum inside Syria that Iran would be only too eager to fill.
In other words, neither the US nor Russia is going to pull Israel’s coals out of the fire in Syria. If Israel is serious about preventing Iran from establishing a permanent military base there, it will have to do so by itself.
If Israel did carry out Monday’s attack, it needs to be seen within the context of last week’s meeting in Ankara. The message in the attack is clear to all, especially the Iranians: Despite what you all may have agreed upon in Turkey, despite how you may have divided up the country among yourselves, Israel has interests and a say, and intends to act upon them.
If indeed Israel did carry out the operation, the timing would also reveal something about its modus operandi: Don’t waste operational opportunities.
When the Iranians tried to send a reconnaissance drone into Israel in February, Israel retaliated massively, using it as a justification for an attack that the IDF said destroyed nearly half of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air defenses.
Along those same lines, one should not be surprised if, at the end of the weeks of Hamas-orchestrated protests along the Israel-Gaza border, there will be numerous terrorists known to the IDF among the Palestinians killed. Following the first demonstrations 11 days ago, the IDF identified by name, rank and terrorist organization 10 of the 15 men killed.
And following the suspected use by Assad of chemical weapons against a civilian population in Douma on Sunday – with the world, including the Russians, Iranians and Syrians concerned about a retaliatory US attack against the air base from which the chemical weapons originated – this provided another opportunity for Israel to act.
Why now? Two reasons: First, because an airbase near Homs used by the Iranians would not be the first place to expect a strike following the alleged chemical attack by Assad’s forces in distant Douma. Second, because the world may be more forgiving – even accepting – of an attack on an airbase anywhere in Syria less than 24 hours after Assad allegedly used chemical weapons to gas men, women and children.
Winston Churchill is said to have coined the expression “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Over the years, this has generally been applied to using diplomatic or economic crises to benefit one’s own agenda. Or, as Rahm Emanuel, US president Barack Obama’s chief of staff, said: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”
If Israel did indeed attack the airbase at T-4, then this adage may very well explain why.