JERUSALEM, Israel — Tensions were running high on Monday, but Israelis were calm after Syria threatened Israel with retaliation for airstrikes on advanced weapons some say were headed for Hezbollah.
Alleged Israeli airstrikes on targets near Damascus are a declaration of war, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mekdad toldCNN on Sunday.
Israel reportedly carried out two aerial strikes in 48 hours aimed at destroying what were described as “game-changing weapons.”
That includes Iranian-made Fateh-110 missiles, with precision guidance systems and a range of 180 miles. Iran was shipping them through Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The attacks highlighted growing Iranian involvement in Syria and the region.
The feeling in Jerusalem is the retaliation would be decided by Iranian mullahs in Tehran and not in Damascus by the Assad regime.
“Syria cannot retaliate without an approval of Iran and also Hezbollah; only Iran can approve because Iran is the main supporter of sending the weapons,” Hebrew University professor emeritus Moshe Maoz said.
Some experts say Iran will likely retaliate by using Hezbollah to carry out a terror attack somewhere in the world as it did in Bulgaria last summer when a suicide bomber killed five Israelis and the Bulgarian tour bus driver and injured three dozen others.
But Maoz says he does not believe Iran wants to go to war now.
“This is why they probably will continue to denounce Israeli activities and do nothing,” he explained. “If I’m wrong and they retaliate, they wouldn’t do it themselves, but they would instruct Hezbollah to do it for Syria. This means that it can lead to a war.”
Syria has reportedly stationed missiles aimed at Israel in response to the weekend airstrikes.
Israel, meanwhile, moved Iron Dome anti-missile batteries to protect northern Israeli cities.
On Monday, Israelis on the Golan Heights and elsewhere in the north were taking the situation in stride.
Officially, the Israeli government has neither confirmed nor denied the airstrikes.
Israeli Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said it was Israel’s policy not to allow “a certain kind of weapon” to “reach the hands of terrorists.”
While the Arab world and even some Syrian rebels condemned the attack, others said Israel was justified.
“The Syrians and Iranians have crossed a red line of the Israelis and that means that weapons of advanced nature, probably missiles, have been moved from Iran into Syria with intentions of moving them to Hezbollah,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said.
Former Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, president of the Heritage Foundation, called the airstrikes a matter of “self-defense.”
“Israel is acting in self-defense,” Demint said. “Clearly Iran…is shipping more precise guided missiles through Syria. So the less stable Syria is, the more dangerous it is for Israel.”
Beyond that, many question how the United States should respond.
“The whole thing is escalating,” Sen. McCain said. “As you may have noticed, the leader of Hezbollah committed to helping Bashar Assad, the conflict is spilling over into Lebanon and Jordan, the whole situation is becoming more and more expansive and unfortunately, the red line that the president of the United States had written was apparently written in disappearing ink.”
DeMint said clarification is the missing element.
“I think the president needs to make it clear what we will do,” he said. “And he’s already tried to do that with his bright red line, which he hasn’t followed through on. So, I don’t know what his steps should be right now. But [it’s] clear his indecisiveness has destabilized and probably brought Israel to this.”
For now, the bloody civil war in Syria continues and Iran’s influence in the area is increasing. But after the weekend attacks, it’s clear Israel is ready to act if it feels its security is threatened.