Syria’s President Bashar Assad asked Iran to hit back at Israel on its behalf for a reported air strike, an Israeli TV report said Monday night, but the Iranians told him, “You need to take care of your business.”
The unsourced report, on Israel’s Channel 10, said that Iranian officials, who have castigated Israel over the strike and said Israel will come to regret it, were approached by Assad to turn the words of criticism into deeds, but responded that “we’re engaged in a media campaign.”
The TV report came hours after Saeed Jalili, the head of Iran’s National Security Council, said on a visit to Damascus that Israel would “regret the aggression it launched against Syria.” Syria says the raid last Wednesday hit a scientific research center and the US says it hit a convoy of SA-17 surface-to-air missiles headed to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
“Just as it regretted its aggressions after the 33-day, 22-day and eight-day wars, today the Zionist entity will regret the aggression it launched against Syria,” Jalili said at a press conference ending a three-day visit to the Syrian capital.
Jalili’s reported rebuffing of Assad represents an about-face from Iran, which has loudly backed Syria.
Earlier in the week, Jalili said, “The Islamic world will not allow aggression against Syria… Syria stands on the front line of the Islamic world against the Zionist regime… The Islamic world must show due reaction to the Israeli aggression.”
Late last month, Iran warned the West against intervening in the ongoing civil war in Syria, with top adviser Ali Akbar Velayati saying that “an attack on Syria is considered an attack on Iran and Iran’s allies.”
In a televised interview Monday, Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij signaled Syria may not be planning to retaliate at all. He said Israel attacked the research center near Damascus because rebels were unable to capture it. He called the rebels Israel’s “tools.”
Freij was asked in an interview with Syrian state TV why Damascus does not retaliate against Israel.
“The Israeli enemy retaliated. When the Israeli enemy saw that its tools are being chased and did not achieve any (of their) goals, they interfered,” he responded. “It was a response to our military acts against the armed gangs,” Freij added. “The heroic Syrian Arab Army, which proved to the world that it is a strong army and a trained army, will not be defeated.”
However, many Syrians are calling on Damascus to attack Israeli interests on the Golan Heights, which borders Syria, Channel 2 Arab affairs analyst Ehud Yaari reported Monday night. Yaari said he was worried by an upsurge in overt demands by Syrians, interviewed on Syrian TV, for attacks on Israel across the Golan.
“I don’t like it,” said Yaari, showing clips of a succession of Syrian civilians repeating the mantra that they “want to open up the Golan front.”
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 war. “For 35 years, Syrians have been forbidden by the regime from talking about opening the Golan front. Today, for the first time, [the regime] sent people to demand this,” Yaari noted.
Israel has been bracing for a possible Syrian response to the strike, but has not formally taken responsibility for it. On Sunday morning, Defense Minister Ehud Barak hinted that Israel was involved, however, and Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, said over the weekend that Israel was responsible. In 2007, Israel reportedly blew up a Syrian nuclear reactor, but never acknowledged responsibility, and Syria did not respond.
The former head of IDF Military Intelligence, Amos Yadlin, warned Monday that the apparent lack of a response so far from the Syrians and their proxy Hezbollah was no indication that there would be no retaliation in the future. Rather, they will choose to take action in a limited, symbolic way, he posited, “in nations across the sea, or by firing rockets with no one taking responsibility.”