The assassination of the anti-Syrian Head of the Lebanon's Internal Security Forces intelligence branch, Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan, Friday, Oct. 19, by a huge car bomb blast in East Beirut’s Ashrafiya district marked the brutal spillover of the Syrian bloodbath into a second Arab capital and the threat of itsl spread towards Israel.
Eighteen months ago, in May 2011, shortly after Syrians rose up against Bashar Assad, Rami Makhlouf, a leading architect of his tactics of suppression, warned, “If there is no stability here, there’s no way there will be stability in Israel.”
Israel should take careful note of the outrage in Beirut in which seven Lebanese were killed and 73 injured in order to liiquidate Assad's foe in Beirut.
In August, Gen. Al-Hasan uncovered a Syrian plot to destabilize Lebanon by a bombing campaign and arrested the pro-Syrian politician and ex-information minister Michel Samaha for complicity in the plot. He also led the investigation that implicated Damascus in the 2005 bombing atrocity that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
Gen. Al-Hasan's murder brought forth angry protesters.They blocked roads and highways in several towns including the Beirut-Syrian road link as the Lebanese government met in emergency session Saturday, Oct. 20, and announced a day of national mourning.
In the wider sense, the murder of the Lebanese anti-Syrian terror crusader demonstrated that hopes in the West and Israel of the Syrian conflict eventually sundering the Tehran-Damascus-Hizballah axis were no better than pipedreams, just like the belief that liquidating Iran’s nuclear scientists or cyber warfare would turn Tehran back from its march towards a nuclear weapon.
After nearly two years, those illusions have been dissipated: The Syrian bloodbath is spreading more malignantly than ever with solid Iranian and Hizballah support and Tehran is closer than ever to realizing its nuclear aspirations.
This week, US President Barack Obama reined in Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and his chief of staff Gen. Necdet Ozel from expanding Turkish cross-border clashes with Syria by sending Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, to Ankara. His restraining hand kept Turkey from going beyond artillery backing for Syrian rebels inside a10-kilometer limit inside Syria. He also cautioned the Turks against sending their warplanes across the border into Syrian airspace.
Because of these curbs, US Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone was able to state Tuesday “We don’t see a possibility of war between Syria and Turkey.” He spoke to reporters in Ankara with the top American soldier beside him.
If they were talking, Turkish Erdogan could compare notes with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has experienced similar Washington restraints against launching military action to curtail Iran’s nuclear program.
Whether or not the United States should step into the two blazing conflicts with two feet – or limit itself to extending military support from the outside to the forces willing to take on Syria and Iran – is a tough question which the two US presidential contenders, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney may address in their third and final pre-election debate in Florida, Monday, Oct. 22.
The differences between the rivals on this point don’t appear substantial. However their contest in the run-up to the Nov.6 election has diverted attention from Ankara and Jerusalem and rescued the Turkish and Israeli leaders from even tougher questions about their reluctance to act without America – Turkey versus Syria and Israel versus Iran – although the Syrian-Iranian-Hizballah menace is knocking on their doors.
They are not alone. The list of Middle East governments, shy of acting without America against encroaching threats from one or more of the three aggressors, includes Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the rest of the Gulf emirates.
The rulers of Russia, Iran and its Lebanese arm Hizballah, in contrast, were emboldened by the US ambassador’s comment in Ankara, its effect on Erdogan and Netanyahu’s non-response to the Iranian stealth drone’s invasion of Israeli air space. They concluded that both leaders would continue to sit on their hands.
And so Assad seized the moment for sending his air force to assault opposition forces with unprecedented fury. Cluster bombs were dropped without mercy on urban areas, causing an estimated 1,200 deaths and reducing entire villages and small towns to smoking rubble.
And his assassins struck across the border into the heart of Beirut for a devastating bombing attack that recalled the horrors of a former Assad bombing campaign against his Lebanese opponents, one of which dispatched the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005.
Every few days, the Syria-Hizballah-Iran bloc ratchets up the violence with a new outrage in the certainty that there will be no comeback.
Sunday, Oct. 21, the US and Israel launch Austere Challenge 12, which they are calling their biggest joint war game ever, to practice defending Israel against a missile attack.
But in tune with the general air of denial hanging over Washington and Jerusalem, the exercise has been reduced in scale to just 1,000 soldiers on each side, with most of the action conducted through simulated computer games. As every soldier knows, this is a far cry from real operations on a battlefield.
Both American and Israeli war planners also realize that even these games are only applicable to defenses against an Iranian ballistic missile attack – not a triple Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah missile assault. This would call for US-Israeli air force intervention. But the air force is not taking part in the war game.