Could bus attack draw Israel into Syria crisis? (BBC) British Broadcasting Company) By Jonathan Marcus BBC Diplomatic Correspondent 19 July 2012 Last updated at 14:44)
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As the Syrian crisis worsens, if you thought that things in the
Middle East were already complicated and unstable enough, then the
attack on an Israeli tourist bus in Bulgaria has just made things
that much worse.
Israeli security experts believe that this is just the latest - and
the first successful - attack in a series of operations against
Israeli targets around the world, planned by the overseas operational
arm of the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
And behind Hezbollah the Israelis see the hand of Iran; an Iran
smarting at a series of attacks against its nuclear scientists,
widely believed to have been planned, maybe even carried out, by the
For its part Hezbollah insists that it had nothing to do with the
But a series of arrests - most recently in Cyprus - have given
credence to Israel´s claims of a long-running Hezbollah plan to
attack soft Israeli targets abroad.
The Burgas attack has potentially brought Israel into the frame of a
crisis in which, up until now, it has been a concerned bystander.
Indeed, the Burgas attack has the potential to exacerbate three over-
lapping crises - the long-standing tensions between Israel and
Hezbollah in southern Lebanon; the growing chaos in Syria; and the
wider struggle between Israel and Iran focussed on Tehran´s nuclear
The stakes are high. A new regional conflagration beckons if any of
the actors make a wrong move.
Israel has been watching events unfold in Syria with alarm, perhaps
tinged with just a small measure of optimism.
The demise of the Assad regime - Iran´s principal Arab ally - would
be a major blow to Tehran.
It would greatly constrain Iran´s regional ambitions.
But on the other hand, the Assad regime - father and son - have been
known quantities. Israel´s border with Syria on the Golan Heights has
been its quietest frontier since the 1973 war.
The collapse of Syria into sectarian chaos - chaos that could well
spread to Lebanon as well - is worrying Israeli political leaders and
There have already been murmurings of concern at Syrian troop levels
in the Golan being reduced as the regime pulls reinforcements into
the centre of the country.
Israel fears it could have an ungoverned space on its northern border
akin to the growing security challenges posed by the breakdown of
order in Egypt´s Sinai peninsula.
Add to this the fear of Syrian weapons - missiles and even chemical
weapons - potentially falling into the hands of Hezbollah and it is
no wonder Israeli military planners are uneasy.
Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon have contrived an uneasy informal
truce since Israel´s last major incursion into the country in 2010.
This operation was not a success for the Israeli military. Hezbollah
emerged battered but with its confidence enhanced. Since then it has
dramatically built-up its ground-to-ground missile force. Israel too
believes that it has learned the lessons from its last military
operation in Lebanon. Both sides are preparing for the next round in
What links both the Syrian regime and Hezbollah in Lebanon - quite
apart from their own close ties - is the patronage and support they
both get from Iran.
Of course Israel regards Iran´s nuclear programme as a potential
existential threat. It has trained and planned for an attack against
Iran´s nuclear facilities. US pressure - not least the imminence of a
US presidential election - tougher economic sanctions, and renewed
efforts by the major players in the UN Security Council along with
Germany to engage Tehran in negotiations have forestalled an Israeli
attack up to now.
But three rounds of talks have not made any significant progress.
Israel is fast losing patience and Israel´s own domestic political
circumstances may come into play.
After the Kadima party quit the coalition a general election may be
in the offing; perhaps in early 2013. Could this be a factor in
determining the timing of a potential Israeli attack against Iran?
Of course such an attack could have dramatic consequences across the
region. The Burgas attack has thus added a new level of complexity to
an already difficult strategic picture.
Israel will no doubt respond against Hezbollah; but maybe not now. It
already has bigger strategic threats to worry about. (© BBC MMXII
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