Israeli airstrikes targeted the Syrian city of Homs this Wednesday morning, killing 2 Syrian civilians, seriously injuring a third, as well as inflicting 6 injuries upon Syrian Arab Army members. As potentially explosive as this attack could’ve been, however, in terms of igniting conflict between the Syrian government and Israel, there was next to no media coverage.
In just over a month, Israel has launched at least 7 attacks against the Syrian State, violating its sovereignty, killing its civilians, members of its armed forces, and an ex-member of Syrian parliament, in addition to damaging sites of the country’s air defense and military facilities.
The latest attack, like many of the hundreds of attacks before, ended up killing and injuring civilians, the attack was also reported by Syria’s State broadcaster, SANA, to have been launched from over Lebanese airspace — which is a violation of Lebanese sovereignty as well. In addition to its attacks, which Israel rarely admits to, Israeli media has reported claims that IDF ground troops managed to enter Syrian territory weeks ago, a claim with the intention to simply embarrass Syria.
Any other nation on earth would have responded by now to such provocations, but not Syria. Whether it be due to the crippling economic sanctions or perhaps its endeavors to be accepted by the Arab League once again, or perhaps foreign powers are holding it back, the Syrian government remains silent. Israel has been launching an offensive push to take advantage of what they see as a weakened Syria, a government which they view as incapable of self defense, and hence have announced their intentions to quadruple the size of their settler population in the illegally occupied Golan Heights.
If Syria is holding back for strategic reasons or perhaps due to external foreign pressure, this may indeed allow for them to guarantee a revival of their economy eventually — but it’s no sure thing. What this patience does in the short term, however, is damage the Syrian government’s legitimacy and allow for a state of lawlessness, rather than just allowing for the Syrian government to confront more immediate threats.
Even in the Gaza Strip, Hamas — which possesses no where near the military strength of Syria’s armed forces — has created a deterrence scenario between it and the occupier. With their limited weapons capabilities, the Palestinian Joint Room of Resistance has achieved a scenario where Israel dare not regularly strike Gaza and kill civilians. For if it does, it must prepare for a response. This means that Israel will only launch attacks upon Gaza when it calculates that the price is worthwhile.
On the issue of Gaza, although a war, the likes of which we saw in May of this year, is nowhere near as threatening to Israel as a conflict with Syria. There is more international coverage and concern from the International Community over a Gaza-Israel escalation than a Syria-Israel escalation. Why is this? This is because Syria refuses to defend itself. Although the International Community preaches a doctrine of non-violence, those who follow that philosophy are ignored and left to bleed.
At this point, Israel has successfully embarrassed Syria, asserted its dominance over Damascus, and it has become so much of a norm that Israel does what it pleases inside the borders of the Syrian State. The UN and international media don’t even bother giving it attention. However, if Syria strikes back, we will suddenly see the spotlight on the conflict, framing Syria as the aggressor.
If you do not respond, you allow the enemy to act with impunity and there is most certainly a level of responsibility with the UN at this point, which renders itself completely useless in the face of repeated Israeli violations. But in all honesty, there is also now the responsibility of the Syrian government. If they do not respond to these sorts of attacks, they are essentially surrendering their country’s sovereignty and by doing so place their own civilians in danger. They have the right to self-defense in the face of violations of their sovereignty, and after these sorts of repeated attacks they have a duty to defend themselves. This does not mean using an irrational tactic, or even responding immediately, but the equation has to be that if you attack Syria, you will also pay a price.
In 2018, Syria did respond in the Golan and fired artillery into Israeli military sites, as well as downing Israeli aircraft. When Syria did this, the frequency of Israeli attacks dramatically decreased and this was due to Tel Aviv understanding the principle of tit-for-tat and calculating their actions, based upon what was a reasonable price for their aggression. Israel is currently testing Syria, to see how far they can go and if they are prepared for retaliation. So if Syria allows anything in this scenario it sends a strong message, especially if Israel is able to destroy vital infrastructure.
Nobody wants to see Syria act and plunge itself into a full-scale war with Israel, this would be destructive, destroy many initiatives to normalise relations in the Arab world, and also leave the country open to attacks on other fronts. But a calculated escalation with Israel is needed for preserving the country’s sovereignty.
Until the time that Syria does act strategically confront Israel in some way, the International Community will not act and the media will care less and less. This could also lead to the most dangerous of all scenarios; that Israel commits such a large-scale crime that Syria is forced at the wrong time to respond and a chaotic war erupts. This would be especially harmful if Israel has by that time significantly weakened the Syrian air defense. Israel is very clearly looking for a propaganda victory over Syria and this could come at the expense of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Syrian lives.