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Comment and Opinion

INSS: The campaign against Iran in Syria: Are Israel’s statements helpful? by Shmuel Even

In recent weeks Israel has declared that it will continue its policy of attacks in Syrian territory and if necessary will step up such attacks, in order to prevent Iranian military entrenchment on Syrian soil and disrupt shipments of strategic weapons from Iran to Hezbollah. This public statement is designed to underscore that Iran’s presence and activity in Syria is a red line that Israel has no intention of ignoring, despite the restrictions Russia has imposed on Israel and the US withdrawal from the arena. This and similar declarations are an about-face of Israel’s policy of ambiguity, which has eroded over the past two years. The problem with the new openness is that it is liable to lower the enemy’s response threshold and force Israel to continue its attacks with greater frequency, if only to preserve its deterrence and demonstrate its freedom to act. This could heighten the possibility of escalation to a large scale war. Israel’s declarations are also liable to arouse opposition in the international arena, which would narrow its scope for maneuvering. It therefore seems that the drawbacks of the declarative policy outweigh its benefits. While countering the Iranian threat from Syria justifies Israel’s risk-taking, it would be better for Israel to maintain a low public profile and be satisfied with attacks that according to a risk-benefit analysis may achieve a substantive strategic effect, and avoid attacks designed mainly to demonstrate operational freedom.

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