September 4, 2013 | New York Daily News

Israel’s Pre-Attack Anxiety

TEL AVIV — There is “some tension” here, said Valentin, an employee at a hotel on the bustling tourist beach strip in central Tel Aviv, Israel. In a classic understated Israeli way, Valentin captures the rising anxiety among Israelis due to threats from Syria's jingoistic regime.

A high-level Syrian official was quoted in the aftermath of planned U.S. military action against Syria's regime as saying, “If Damascus is attacked, Tel Aviv will burn.”

The Obama administration seeks congressional authorization to punish Assad with military strikes because of its use of chemical weapons last month. Syrian President Bashar Assad deployed the agents against his own people, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,400 people, according to the White House.

The threats against Israel are not merely limited to Syria's blood-soaked regime. Iran's notoriously brutal Revolutionary Guards head, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, went even further with eliminatory anti-Israel rhetoric, declaring a war in Syria “will result in the imminent destruction of the Zionist regime of Israel.”

All of this helps to explain why there is a huge demand for gas masks in Israel. The country's postal service, which distributes the masks, reports a fourfold increase in requests for the anti-chemical gear.

The Home Front Command reports receiving 20,000 calls, causing telephone lines to crash. In perhaps a piece of good news, a source with the Command notes, “We've had far higher call numbers in the past. We will upgrade the phone lines.” In response to Syria's belligerent rhetoric, Israel Defense Forces told the country's citizens: “stay calm but be prepared.”

The Jewish state — the Middle East's only robust democracy — also faces threats from Iran's main terrorist proxy the Lebanese-based organization Hezbollah. The Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper reported on Sunday that Hezbollah, which has combatants in Syria fighting for the preservation of Assad's regime, will fire surface-to-surface air missiles against Israel in response to U.S. military strikes.

Israel has not intervened on either side during the Syrian civil war, which started in earnest in 2011. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has assured Syria's regime and Hezbollah that a fierce military response is to be expected if the country is attacked. In preparation, Israel's defense force has deployed Iron Dome anti-rocket batteries in a number of cities. Patriot and Arrow-3 anti-ballistic missile batteries have also been activated, and a limited number of reservists have been called up.

In a story rarely publicized, Israel has provided lifesaving medical care to Syrian victims. The medical services delivered to Syrians in Israeli hospitals is one of the most neglected European mainstream media stories of the conflict.

Perhaps this is because media bias against the Jewish state from Europe and Muslim-majority countries target Israel with obsessive criticism due to its counterterrorism security policies.

The sectarian and civil wars — including jihadi activity — unfolding daily around Israel's four borders is indicative of the enormously difficult security challenges Israel faces. There are car bombs exploding in Lebanese cities, Jihadis gaining control of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, a massive Syrian refugee crisis in Jordan and Syria's use of chemical weapons and traditional warfare to wipe out over 100,000 people in just over two years.

It is difficult to predict the results of the Syrian war on Israel's adversaries. However, Yossi Melman, a top Israeli security expert, recently observed, “two of Israel's bitter enemies, Syria and Hezbollah, are in deep trouble.”

It is worth recalling that the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah launched a war in 2006 against Israel. After a cease-fire agreement was reached, Hezbollah violated the terms of the UN-brokered agreement by refusing to disarm its military. Instead, Hezbollah amassed a missile arsenal estimated at between 60,000 and 100,000 projectilesf

Melman, who co-authored the book “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel's Secret Wars” with CBS's Dan Raviv, says Hezbollah's best-trained forces have suffered serious damage in Syria. He estimates that 300 of an overall force of 3,000 Hezbollah combatants have been killed in the conflict. An additional 1,000 Hezbollah militants have been wounded.

Melman says the crises in the region have triggered greater military and intelligence cooperation between the US and Israel, adding, “The US realizes Israel is the only reliable force in the region.”

The U.S. and its Western partners should declare that any strikes on its principal ally Israel will trigger massive counterattacks on Syria's regime and Hezbollah. In short, the significance of Israel for Western and Middle East security-and as a model for Middle East regional democracy-cannot be emphasized enough. The range of threats and conflicts surrounding Israel reinforces the validity of the late General Moshe Dayan's outlook: “Israel has no foreign policy, only a defense policy.”

Weinthal is a Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal


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