Global Politics

Israel on Alert After Syria Strikes

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Credit: REUTERS

An Israeli soldier prays atop a tank close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria on the Israeli occupied Golan Heights May 6, 2013. Israel sought to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday that its recent air strikes around Damascus did not aim to weaken him in the face of a more than two-year-old rebellion. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (ISRAEL - Tags: POLITICS MILITARY) - RTXZC70

The Syrian government said Israel's attacks inside Syria were a "flagrant violation" of international law and that they were making the Middle East "more dangerous."

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"The government of the Arab Syrian Republic stresses that this aggression opens the door to all possibilities, especially since it clearly reveals without a doubt the degree of the relationship between the components of the war on Syria with the terrorists and Zionist tools," said Syria's Minister of Information Omran Zoabi. "Syria reserves the right to respond by any means necessary."

Anti-government activists in Syria said at least 42 regime soldiers died in Sunday's attack at a military research facility outside Damascus. Residents described a huge explosion that felt like a "mild earthquake."

International Crisis Group's Ofer Zalzberg said contrary to Syrian claims, Israel is not trying to intervene in the conflict there.

"Israel is not trying to join civil war dynamics," Zalzberg said. "It is setting this red line in terms of specifically not having Iran and Hezbollah exporting long-range rockets out of Syria into Lebanon. And it is trying to stay as neutral as it can in terms of the conflict between the so-called opposition and Assad's regime."

Israel edged closer to choosing sides by warming up to both Turkey and Jordan, two countries that had been critical of Syria's government and supportive of the opposition.

Still, said Zalzberg, the Israeli leadership seemed to be confident that neither Syria nor Hezbollah was willing to retaliate in response. "Even after these supposed attacks, Prime Minister Netanyayu, is going to China for a few days. He postponed his departure by two hours. He decided he can go and promote trade relations with China. He's not worried about the eruption of war," said Zalzberg.

On the streets in Jerusalem Monday, there were signs of support from the Israeli public.

"Israel should take any measure necessary to protect itself as any rational country or state would do," said Jerusalem resident Steven Lubell said.

Aryeh, an Israeli reserve soldier, said "Israel did not attack Syria. Israel specifically attacked things [weapons] that are going to terrorist organizations. Syria itself," continued Lubell, "Iran itself, should be happy that we stopped it from getting into the hands of terrorists."

The Syrian opposition Monday — publicly at least — condemned any Israeli air strikes inside Syria. So did the Arab League. And Iran said Israel was playing with fire.

Perhaps as a precaution, Israel deployed two of it's "iron dome" anti-missile batteries closer to Lebanon and Syria. The head of Israel's northern command told the Israeli media that it's always good to prepare." But, he added, "there are no winds of war blowing through the region."

Yet, when it comes to the military standoff between Israel and Hezbollah, it doesn't take much for much for those winds to get whipped up.

Back in 2006, a border skirmish quickly turned into an all-out war. Security analyst Ofer Zalzberg doesn't rule out that this could happen again.

"The chances are low," Zalzberg said, "but not something one can rule out."

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