After four decades of relative calm, Israel’s northern border with Syria is heating up — fast.
Several minor border incursions have been reported in recent months that are directly related to the civil war in Syria, but this past weekend, the pot nearly boiled over.
Israeli jets attacked and destroyed Iranian missiles in Syria bound for Hezbollah on Friday. And on Sunday, Syria claimed that Israel attacked the Jamraya military research center, a reputed chemical weapons site, about 10 miles from the Lebanon border.
Israel has not confirmed the attacks.
In Israel itself, the IDF moved two Iron Dome missile defense batteries to northern Israel near Safed and Haifa over the weekend. At the same time, airspace over northern Israel was closed to civilian traffic. One domestic air carrier said its flights from Haifa to Eilat had been grounded for five days on instructions from the IDF.
All of which raises tensions in a country already beset by volatile borders with Lebanon, Gaza and Egypt.
The good news is, if Israel needs to protect its people, it will do so with a green light from Washington. President Obama made it clear this weekend that he supports moves by the Jewish state to defend its borders.
“What I have said in the past and I continue to believe is that the Israelis justifiably have to guard against the transfer of advanced weaponry to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah,” the president said in an interview with the Spanish language U.S. television network Telemundo, then picked up by Reuters. “We coordinate closely with the Israelis recognizing they are very close to Syria, they are very close to Lebanon.”
The statement comes even as the White House makes clear there will be no rush to judgment to punish the Syrian regime or rebels, for the apparent use of chemical weapons.
Some may see that as a hypocritical stance. If they do, we take issue with that. Who used those weapons — if they were used — still isn’t clear. And if it becomes clear, who all the bad guys are in Syria is still to be determined. To be sure, President Bashar al-Assad is a ruthless dictator who will stop at nothing to stay in power, but who is he fighting? How extreme are they in their politics? And will they turn their guns on Israel if and when they topple Assad?
We had better be sure of who we back — and what the fallout will be — before getting involved in another protracted war in that region.
Israel’s situation is different. Israelis know who their enemies are on their northern borders — in a word, everyone. Syria is already a conduit for Iranian weapons reaching Hezbollah, which the Lebanese terrorist group has already used in its 2006 war with the Jewish state.
For Israel, the threat is real and immediate. That is why the United Sates has moved quickly to support Israel in her actions this past weekend, and why Israel would have been right to act, even if Washington hadn’t.