Arabs Condemn Israeli Airstrikes in Syria As American Lawmakers Urge U.S. Action

Patrick Goodenough | May 6, 2013 | 4:42am EDT
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In this image taken from video and authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, smoke and fire fill the skyline over Damascus early Sunday, May 5, 2013 after an Israeli airstrike. (AP Photo/Shaam News Network via AP video)

( – The Arab League and its leading member, Egypt, may want to see the end of the Assad regime, but Israeli airstrikes against Syrian regime targets in recent days drew condemnation from both.

The Egyptian government called the Israeli action a threat to regional stability and a violation of international law, while the Cairo-based Arab League demanded that the United Nations “immediately halt the Israeli attacks on Syria.”

Arab League head Nabil Al-Arabi called the airstrikes a “grave violation of the sovereignty of an Arab state that will further complicate the issue in Syria and expose the region’s security and stability to the most serious threats and consequences.”

Also slamming the attack were the Syrian, Iranian and Lebanese governments, while U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for “maximum calm and restraint.”

The airstrikes on Friday and Sunday reportedly targeted Iranian-made missiles which Israel fears will end up in the hands of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group virulently hostile towards Israel and closely allied to the Syrian and Iranian regimes.

The last time Israeli jets struck inside civil war-torn Syria, last January, it was Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who led strong regional condemnation, but Turkey gave no reaction to the latest airstrikes.

Erdogan instead lashed out at Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday, calling him a criminal and a murderer and vowing he would be held to account for the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrians.

The Obama administration recently brokered a truce between Turkey and Israel following a bitter bilateral dispute. At the time Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu attributed Israel’s willingness to end the rift to the need for strong Israel-Turkey cooperation in response to the Syrian crisis and its threat to regional stability.

Erdogan is scheduled next week to visit Washington, where the administration is mulling options for deeper involvement in the two year-old crisis, beyond its current provision of non-lethal supplies to Syria’s opposition rebels.

President Obama in a weekend television interview said Israel was justified in wanting to prevent sophisticated weaponry from reaching Hezbollah and added that the U.S. “will continue to coordinate with Israel.”

The missiles reportedly targeted in the airstrikes were Fateh-110s, with a range capable of targeting Israel’s coastal population centers from Lebanese territory, and boasting a guidance system making them relatively accurate, according to Israeli officials.

Before the three airstrikes this year (on Sunday, Friday and in late January), Israel over the years monitored and made formal complaints to the U.N. about Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah via Syria. But it did not in the past target weapons as they moved through Syrian territory.

As the Syrian situation has deteriorated, however, Israel’s concerns have grown. A fortnight ago Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, speaking alongside visiting Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, identified three “red lines” for Israel – a cross-border attack from Syrian regime or rebel forces, chemical weapons falling into “rogue” hands, and the transfer of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah or “other rogue elements who are operating now in Syria.”

The Israeli shift and options for the U.S. prompted considerable discussion on television talk shows on Sunday.

“The missiles that were intercepted are not dumb Scuds, they’re smarter Fateh-3 missiles that have range from southern Lebanon to hit Tel Aviv,” former U.S. Rep. Jane Harman, president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“So this is a big, escalated problem. I wish we had acted sooner.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has been pushing for the U.S. to take stronger steps to support vetted groups among the Syrian opposition, called on Fox News Sunday for “game-changing action,” including the establishment of a safe zone and the arming of “the right people.”

“Every day that goes by, Hezbollah increases their influence and … the radical jihadists flow into Syria and the situation becomes more and more tenuous.”

McCain and others noted that Israeli jets appeared to have had no difficulty penetrating Syrian Russian-supplied air defenses, notwithstanding concerns voiced by senior U.S. military officials about the strength of those defenses.

“The fact is we are capable of taking out their air on the ground with cruise missiles, cratering their runways, where all of these supplies, by the way, from Iran and Russia are coming in by air,” McCain said.

“I think the fact that they [the Israelis] were able to go in there shows that perhaps the Russian-supplied air defense systems are not as good as were said,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said on “Meet the Press.”

Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), taking part in the same program, agreed.

“The Israeli strikes over the last 48 hours have indicated that those Russian air defense systems are not as robust as they’re sometimes reported to be,” he said. “We can stop Bashar al-Assad from killing his own people. And we can stop some of the worst violence in Syria if we use aircraft.”

Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson predicted Obama would act soon.

“We can’t have boots on the ground, but I think potentially some kind of option like airstrikes against some of those weapons sites to protect the rebels are in the cards, in my view,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“Now, I think what happened with Israel is, Israel is also sending a signal to Iran, to Hezbollah, but possibly to us too, that the situation right in the Syrian area is getting very, very tense,” Richardson said. “But I think in the next few days, my view is that the president will opt towards some kind of limited military option.”

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