Israel’s strike on a Syrian convoy believed to contain anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon may have heightened tensions already at the breaking point due to the civil war raging in Syria, but what it may not do is rally many of Syria’s neighbors to its defense.
Hezbollah, an admitted sworn enemy of Israel, has condemned the attack as “barbaric aggression,” but there has not been much more than that in terms of reaction from other nations in the region. This is unusual, for in times past, whenever Israel has become embroiled in conflict with one of its Arab neighbors, a mindset of Pan-Arab solidarity would often be reinforced – as has been seen so often in the ongoing clashes between Israelis and Palestinians and most recently, in the 2012 Gazan conflict in which Egypt, itself fresh from turmoil, hastened to get involved. Such support could perhaps have provided President Bashar Assad with a bit of a respite, as he might have used the occasion to accuse the rebels of tacitly being in league with Israel.
However, so far, other than the statement from Hezbollah, and, interestingly enough, a strongly worded rebuke from Russia about such a strike violating the United Nations Charter, there hasn’t been a peep from other Arab nations denouncing Israel’s action. In this case, one gets the sense of two issues at play: The first is the bloody, prolonged and very visible civil war raging in Syria, in which tens of thousands have lost their lives and many more sit displaced in overcrowded refugee camps or attempt to create new lives for themselves in foreign countries that are becoming wary of the influx of asylum-seekers. With Assad’s largest ally, Russia, starting to indicate its doubt that Assad can hang on to power much longer, there is the sense that he has become something of a pariah and a nuisance to his peers.
This dovetails into the second issue: Many of those peers are barely clinging to power themselves. The latest upheaval in Egypt could spell the end of President Mohammed Morsi and his Islamist government. Unrest continues in Libya and Tunisia, the genesis of the “Arab Spring” movement of 2011, has yet to get its bearings. Even Jordan, a friend of the West and frequent broker of peace, is undergoing a period of uncertainty. The results of a recent parliamentary election seem to have quieted those who were calling for King Abdullah II to step down in the immeidate term, but the opposition does not give the appearance of having given up pushing for the change it believes the country needs.
With such pressing domestic issues plaguing them, it’s almost certain that these leaders don’t want to further alienate their constituents or give fodder to their opponents by appearing to side with a leader who has waged a ruthless war on his own people. So it is unlikely that they will be flocking to Assad in support or raising their voices in protest.
It is certain, however, that none of the Syria’s neighbors are pleased with Israel’s action. It could set an uncomfortable precedent in which Israeli warplanes strike any target believed to pose a threat, with little corroboration of what those targets actually contain, and without regard to the rights of sovereign nations. So while Assad may be on his own in this affair, it’s probable that other Arab leaders will be keeping a close eye on Israel and on what, if any, rebuke it will face from the international community.