Friday, September 14, 2007

Is Serious Trouble Brewing Between Syria and Israel?

Speculation Centers on Fears of Missiles and Nuclear Weapons

Peace Talks Seem Impossible as Tensions Grow Between Syrians and Israelis. ABC News reports:

Eight days ago, the Syrian government announced that Israeli military jets had been spotted flying through Syrian airspace. The Syrians said the jets had been fired upon and had fled. The Israelis said nothing at all.

Ever since, the region and its media have been engaged in a frenzy of speculation as to what really happened. As soon as news of the reported incident broke, the Israeli government imposed a complete media blackout.

That blackout has muzzled Israeli journalists who have been frustrated by the silence of their usually talkative defense sources. In one bulletin an Israeli radio announcer sarcastically told his audience to log onto the Web site of a government-sponsored Syrian newspaper to find out what really happened.

In the strange atmosphere that has followed last week's incident, the region's bloggers have been working overtime to fill the void. What seems clear is that something important did happen, and far from the Israeli mission being limited to probing, or reconnaissance, the consensus view is that the Israelis flew a mission that had a real target.

This speculation has been supported by a number of anonymous defense sources in the United States. One such source is quoted in The New York Times saying, "The strike I can confirm, the target, I can't."

Judging by the extraordinary secrecy attached to the target, it was highly sensitive. Another unnamed U.S. source said the Israeli strike "left a big hole in the desert." Meanwhile the Syrians are sticking to their story that the Israelis turned and ran once they were detected. Syrian U.N. ambassador Bashar al Ja'afari told reporters: "There was no target. They dropped their munitions. They were running away."

Here are the leading theories about the target, in no particular order of credibility or importance:

The Israelis, presumably with U.S. knowledge and backing, targeted a transfer of weapons destined for the Lebanese group Hezbollah. This trafficking of weapons has long been an issue for the Israelis, and now is in direct contravention of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which was drawn up at the end of last year's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Israeli intelligence has been warning that Hezbollah is trying to rearm and the usual suspects are Syria and Iran.

The rest of this article is not available at the ABC website.