JERUSALEM — In the early hours of May 5, a massive explosion and a series of secondary blasts rocked the Syrian capital, Damascus. A fireball and plume of smoke soared over the city. Damascus residents said they had never seen an explosion so big.
Both US and Israeli officials have all but confirmed that the Israeli Air Force was responsible for the strike, a bid, military experts say, to keep "game-changing" weapons like long-range missiles from reaching the hands of Hezbollah.
But while both sides talk of war — and in Israel, amid rumors Syria might use chemical weapons in retaliation, residents stock up on gas masks — what do Israelis think of what was reportedly their own military's strike on neighboring Syria?
You might be surprised.
Profession: Simultaneous translator
Location: Tel Aviv
Do you have a gas mask? No.
The air force strike on Syria? I think it’s the continuation of an Israeli pattern — a deeply entrenched pattern of behavior, which in many other cases succeeded. But in this case, it seems like too much of a risk.
For one, no one really knows what they [the Israeli military] hope to succeed in over there. We haven’t heard [of] a specific goal. It seems like an attempt to rack up some points.
Does it bring us closer to war? I hope not. It's hard to believe they're that dumb.
Profession: Taxi driver
Gas mask: Yes
There’s a possibility that what the Israelis are saying is right, and that they went in to hit missiles. But I think they’re trying to help the rebels. From the number of soldiers killed, the Sunday attack doesn’t seem to have targeted missiles heading to Hezbollah. It looks like they are really trying to help the rebels.
I listen to Syrian radio, and what I heard is that the Syrian army was about to crush a group of rebels, and the Israelis came in to help them.
For Israel, Syria is the muscle that connects Hezbollah to Iran. If you cut it in the middle, you stop all weapons transfers. So Israel will be able to attack Iran knowing there will be no direct reprisal from Hezbollah.
This raises the possibilities of war. Not with Syria. The Syrians have no strength left to fight another war. But yes, with Hezbollah or other organizations. I don't think Israel should get involved in this fight. It's premature.
I don't feel this [the strike] protects me right now. Maybe later. Let the rebels take care of things, and then Israel can get involved. Chemical weapons shouldn't be in the hands of these people [the rebels].
Profession: Café owner
Gas mask: No
I think the air strike was unnecessary. They took a big risk for nothing. It won't contribute to anything. They'll only have more and more weapons, and more and more desire to hit us — more motivation. I believe that all violence begets violence.
They did it because it is like a habit to attack all the time, instead of trying to think of something else. You know, here in Israel we have this habit of playing power games.
I haven't picked up a gas mask. What for? Totally doesn't interest me. I'd probably pick one up, and it'd be defective anyway.
Profession: Investment advisor
Gas mask: Yes
I think it was inevitable. They've been warned not to transport those poisonous gasses to Lebanon, and it threatens Israel — well, not just Israel, it threatens everybody, really.
Yes, I think the air strike was justified. I don't think it brings us closer to conflict. I think it ultimately protects us.
I hope — and I'd be very pleased — if our leaders would take this opportunity of a change in [Israel’s] government [in March] to recommence negotiations with our [Palestinian] neighbors.
Syria is a different cup of tea. They are beating themselves. They are fighting a war that finally has nothing to do with us. But the number of refugees and wounded people is worrying and inhuman.
Profession: Event organizer
Gas mask: Yes
Why are you asking about airplanes and Syria? I don't get involved. I don't care. I don't even look at this kind of thing. It completely doesn't interest me.
I have one thing in my life: I have a home, my wife, my kids. That's what matters. Beyond that, God knows.
All politicians are crazy. Israeli, Syrian, Lebanese. All of them. Who cares? I just want to live in peace and quiet.
I'm not afraid. We all die in the end. You have to believe that God takes care of everything.
(At this point, Idris' co-worker, 20-year-old Adam Jaradat, adds: “and we have bomb shelters,” and Idris laughs.)
Bomb shelters, yeah. But [also] God.