by Yoav Limor
Officials in Israel sounded convinced on Wednesday that the American momentum on attacking Syria has not stopped, and the hullabaloo on the diplomatic and international front will not change the strategic decision made in Washington to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime for using chemical weapons.
In the meantime, the Americans are continuing to formulate a dual coalition to support a military operation, globally and regionally.
Members of the global coalition, as of Wednesday, include Great Britain, Canada, France, and to a lesser extent Germany and NATO. Regionally, the coalition is comprised of Gulf states, Jordan, Turkey, and unofficially Israel as well.
Only a small number of these countries will actually take part in the attack, which according to reports is expected to last two days and focus on dozens of targets. Israel surely will not be among those participating in the offensive, but considering its intimate intelligence and operational familiarity with the Syrian arena it is reasonable to assume it will have an integral role in the preparations for the attack and its execution (even if it does not select the targets itself).
Israeli officials believe that the U.S. administration will seek a punitive operation on a limited scale, but which comes with a stick: If Syria uses unconventional weapons again the U.S. will attack it again, on a larger scale. Considering this, Israel believes Syria will want to end this affair as quickly as possible.
From the perspective of the Assad regime, this is a "necessary punishment" that it must take, thus the firm Israeli assessment that the chances of a Syrian response against the Jewish state are close to nil. As of Wednesday there was not one source, official or indication that pointed to any other assessment, but the political echelon decided nevertheless to continue warning Syria against thinking about deflecting fire toward Israel.
Along with the deterrence efforts, the defense establishment also tried to calm the nation, which has unreasonably begun to panic as if we are on the brink of a horrible war. Even if the stresses of standing in line at the gas mask distribution centers are familiar from the days of the First Gulf War with Iraq, the hysteria we have witnessed is unnecessary and of no benefit.
If Israel believed that there was even a miniscule chance that the country would be targeted with chemical weapons, the army's Homefront Command would ask people to equip themselves with gas masks. The preparations we are seeing -- moving Iron Dome batteries to the north, calling up a limited number of reservists in the air-defense corps, intelligence gathering and getting the homefront ready -- are intended to prevent any surprises and prepare for any developments; they are not an indication of information being hidden from the public.
It is reasonable that stress levels will rise sharply when the attack begins, when the nerves of all those involved will also be put to the test -- in Israel and around the world. The arena is not lacking for elements that will seek to join the fray, which is why we will also see increased alertness along the Lebanese border, Sinai and Gaza. But the Israeli interest continues to be focusing its efforts in one central direction: not to be dragged into the fighting, and to let the Americans run the show.
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