Tensions between Israel and Syria are increasing after the former's airstrikes on Damascus. Syria has threatened retaliation, potentially risking all-out war. DW talked to retired Israeli Brigadier-General Shlomo Brom.
DW: Mr. Brom, why do you think Israel attacked Syria?
Shlomo Brom: The targets of this attack were accurate long-range missiles called Fatah-110, manufactured and supplied by Iran. The main characteristic of these missiles is that in Israeli terms they have a long range of 300 km and they are much more accurate than previous missiles Hezbollah had. That means they can aim at specific targets, not like the rockets that they launch in the general area of a city.
Did Israel damage Hezbollah?
It didn't affect the current activities of Hezbollah, but it prevented them from getting better.
What do you make of Syria's reaction?
So far it seems that the early assessments that there will be no Syrian retaliation seem to be valid. We heard Syria say that this Israeli act was an act of war against Syria, but we didn't hear any specific threats. The only thing Syria has done is complain to the United Nations Security Council. So I think it is quite clear at this stage that this time Syria is not going to retaliate by use of force.
But when it concerns Hezbollah, the jury is still out. In many cases Hezbollah has a long memory. They hold the option to retaliate, they wait for the most convenient opportunity, and then they operate. They usually use terrorist activities as their modus operandi, like suicide bombings.
What does this attack say to the US?
I don't think this attack is revealing to the US anything the US didn't know before. Using air power in Syria is not difficult. So the constraint against intervening military in Syria is not operational difficulties. It is quite doable. But I think the calculation that prevent the US and other Western powers from intervening in Syria is the concern that once they intervene, they will be dragged into the Syrian conflict and eventually they will have to put boots on the ground. Because in the chaotic situation in Syria, air power can help the rebels topple the Assad regime, but air power will not help in making order in the messy situation after the regime falls. We've seen in Iraq and Afghanistan that it's not an easy job, and I don't think there is much appetite in the West to enter an adventure of this kind.
Is there a danger of an all-out war breaking out in the region?
There are different levels of war. There is a war already taking place in the region, but this is a covert war between Israel, Iran and Hezbollah. If your question relates to the possibility of having an overt war between states, I think we have to take into account the possibility of uncontrolled escalation as a result of recent events, but the probability is really quite low.
Can you imagine someone crossing a red line that could ignite the region?
I don't see it in terms of red line. I see it in terms of cumulative events. It's easy for an analyst to say after the first Israeli air strike, that there will probably be no reaction. It's difficult to say it after a second and third strike. And it's very difficult to say it after the fourth and fifth. There is an accumulation of pressure on the Syrian leadership, the Hezbollah leadership, to do something. It's difficult for me to gauge where the breaking point is.
What could trigger Israel would be a blatant attack on its citizens coming either from Lebanon or Syria. Namely the launch of rockets by Hezbollah from Lebanon on a northern place in Israel.
What do you make of Israeli public opinion toward this strike?
I haven't seen any data of public opinion survey, but Israelis usually like successful military operations, and so far this military operation looks successful. However, in recent years I think there is a kind of aversion to Israeli operations considered high risk with great repercussions, like an attack on the Iranian nuclear program. We are getting close to a point in which we have gone too far.
So, what's next?
You need two to tango. Now the ball is in Syria's court.
Retired Brig.-Gen. Shlomo Brom is a former Israeli military intelligence officer and planner. He is now a researcher with the Institute for National Security Studies, Israel's most prestigious strategic think tank.