A string of Israeli air strikes on Syria is threatening to expand the geographical boundaries of the conflict by drawing Palestinian groups allied to the Syrian government and the Lebanese Hizbollah into an open confrontation with Israel.
The first signs of a blowback from Israel’s attacks in Syria on Friday and Sunday surfaced in the form of a statement by the Damascus-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC). The Associated Press is quoting Anwar Raja of the group as saying that the Syrian government has given his organisation “a green light” to attack Israeli targets from the Syrian-side of the Golan Heights. Mr. Raja did not elaborate, but affirmed that the government did not give any written approval for the mission.
Unlike most other Palestinian groups inside Syria, the PFLP-GC has actively fought in support of the Syrian regime during the course of the two-year-old conflict.
The Israeli strikes have brought into sharper focus the possible combat role of the Iran-backed Hizbollah in support of the Syrian government. Reuters is quoting a western intelligence official as saying that “stores of Fateh-110 missiles that were in transit from Iran to Hizbollah” had been hit by the Israeli strikes.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon conveyed his anxiety over the Israeli attacks, pointing out that “national sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in the region” must be respected.
Despite advocacy for the de-escalation, support from the United States for Israel means that growing military tensions in the area are unlikely to subside soon. In response to queries about the Israeli strikes, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said on Monday that Israel had a legitimate concern about “the transfer of sophisticated weapons to terrorist organisations like Hizbollah, and they have a right to act in their own sovereign interest”.
The debate on the use of chemical weapons in Syria has further fuelled tensions and accelerated the possibility of external intervention. U.S. President Barack Obama’s assertion that confirmed use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would be a “game changer” — an open-ended remark that could mean the exercise of a broad spectrum of options ranging from arming the Syrian opposition to more direct intervention — had raised tensions to hair-trigger level.
However, the momentum for a muscular response to the Syrian government based on a moral case against it has been somewhat broken by the stunning remarks of Carla del Ponte, a U.N. human rights investigator. In an interview with a Swiss television channel, she asserted there were “strong, concrete suspicions” that the Syrian opposition and not the government, had used Sarin nerve agent during the fighting.