Israel scratching its head after US officials (again) leak Syria strike

Sources in Jerusalem say ‘there’s no anger’ over American reports of Latakia bombing; only an attempt to figure out the leakers’ motives

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

An Israeli F-15I at the Hatzerim Airbase (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)
An Israeli F-15I at the Hatzerim Airbase (photo credit: Ofer Zidon/Flash90)

In the wake of Israeli media reports about “anger” in Jerusalem over American leaks to CNN and The New York Times regarding an alleged Israeli attack in Syria this month, official sources clarified to The Times of Israel Monday that “there is no anger toward the administration.”

Still, according to the sources, Israel is trying to understand how and why it happened: why twice in the past two months American media ran reports — based on tips from US officials — that could get Israel caught up in a military conflict with Syria. According to the same sources, there is also disappointment among decision-makers regarding the conduct of the American media. But again, they stressed, “there’s no anger.”

Syrian President Bashar Assad has threatened a military response to any future Israeli strike on targets in Syria. However, since Assad has his hands full with the civil war in his country, it is widely assumed that he wouldn’t risk a head-on conflict with Israel unless he felt he had no choice. Reports of Israeli strikes increase the pressure on Assad to respond or risk losing his credibility.

According to the reports in CNN and The New York Times, Israeli warplanes targeted a Syrian naval base in Latakia earlier this month and destroyed a warehouse full of Russian-made anti-ship missiles that may have been bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There are two, conflicting assessments in Jerusalem as to the source of the leaks. One suggests that they come from groups interested in deeper US involvement in the fighting in Syria. Through such leaks, those groups are trying to show that, just as Israel has managed to avoid getting sucked into the fighting in Syria, the American military can do the same while still achieving meaningful intervention. This despite assessments in the Pentagon that military involvement — to impose a no-fly zone, for instance — would require hundreds of aerial sorties and even boots on the ground.

The second Israeli assessment holds that those who oppose American involvement in the fighting in Syria are trying to send the message that such a campaign is unnecessary, since for the time being Israel is striking critical targets; and that an attempt to topple the government in Syria could bring to power a government even more extreme than the one in Damascus today.

The Israeli officials pointed out that despite the leaks, there’s a noticeable effort by the Syrian regime to emphasize that the incident in Latakia wasn’t an Israeli attack. The Syrians underscored in reports published over the past few days that “No foreign army was involved in the explosions, and there was no action from the air or from the sea,” as some Western and Arab media outlets claimed.

President Assad is apparently trying desperately to avoid being forced into standing by his promise from two months ago that he would respond militarily against Israel if it attacks Syria again.

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