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Israeli Strikes in Syria Pose Dilemma for Arab States

  • Elizabeth Arrott

The response to Israeli airstrikes against Syrian government targets highlights the intricate web of loyalties ensnaring neighboring Arab states.

The Arab League early on suspended the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, but has now rushed to condemn attacks attributed to Israel against his forces. Yet the rebuke of Israel comes as the Arab League tries to revive a decade-old peace plan envisioning regional recognition of the Jewish state.

There also is the sectarian factor. Most Sunni-majority states have sided with Syria's Sunni-led opposition, in part to thwart the reach of Shi'ite-led Iran into the Arab world. There is even quiet approval of Israel's determination not to let Iran create nuclear weapons.

Iranian ally Hezbollah has wide support in the region, however, precisely for its anti-Israel stance. Intelligence sources say the Israeli attacks were aimed at halting the transfer of Iranian-made missiles to the Lebanese Shi'ite group as they passed through Syria.

Syrian officials sought to capitalize on the confusion, tying Israel to Syrian rebel forces.

"[The Syrian military] has the right and responsibility to protect its country and people from any form of infringement either at home or abroad,” said Syrian Information Minister Omran al Zoubi.

For all the denunciations of the Israeli attacks, though, there appears to be little appetite for any military response.

When diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian conflict fell apart, the idea of Arab military intervention did not take its place. And Arab militaries have for decades shied away from confrontation with Israel, after defeat in previous wars.

As Israel appears to have taken an active military role in Syria, sectarian tensions spill across Syria's borders and the strain of more than a million refugees take their toll, the region cannot avoid being affected, one way or another.

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