JERUSALEM — With the attack in Syria, Israel took its first overt military step into the “Arab Spring” unrest that has destabilized its neighbors and left Israelis feeling more vulnerable than they have in decades.
Israel’s goal was apparently to deny sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon, and may not have been intended to stir the pot in Syria. But whether by intent or circumstance, Israel has inserted itself into a civil war that thus far had very little to do with it — and which other Western nations, including the U.S., have kept at arm’s length out of concern that military engagement could only make things worse.
“Until now, Israel avoided becoming involved in this quagmire in Syria,” said Moshe Maoz, a former government security advisor and a Syria expert at Hebrew University. “Now this may be the first sign that Israel has decided to escalate actions to cause [President Bashar] Assad’s downfall.”
Other analysts disagreed that Israel was intending to undermine Assad, especially since any successor to the Syrian leader could prove to be even more hostile. Still, the Syria strike may signal a new willingness by Israel to intervene in the region’s problems.
Israel has not confirmed or denied the reported attack, which took place early Wednesday. News accounts based on anonymous sources from the United States and elsewhere suggested that Israeli fighters struck a military convoy with weapons destined for Hezbollah, which is closely allied with Damascus. The arms were said to include Russian SA-17 antiaircraft missiles, which could significantly boost Hezbollah’s defensive capabilities.
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