In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. persuaded Israel not to retaliate when Iraq hit it with Scud missiles. This time is different.
A woman shows a child how to put on a gas mask at a distribution center in Tel Aviv. Israelis are bracing for an attack after Syria vowed to strike Israel if Syria is struck by the United States. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images / August 26, 2013)
JERUSALEM — During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Israel endured dozens of Scud missiles launched by Saddam Hussein’s forces, but refrained from retaliating because of U.S. concern that Israeli involvement would fracture the international coalition it had built against Iraq.
As the United States prepares for a possible military attack against the Syrian government over its alleged use of chemical weapons, Israeli leaders are making it clear that they have no intention of standing down this time if attacked.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday issued the starkest warning to date in response to recent saber-rattling by Syrian President Bashar Assad‘s government, which has said it might respond to a U.S. strike by attacking Israel.
“We are not part of the civil war in Syria, but if we identify any attempt whatsoever to harm us, we will respond with great force,” Netanyahu said after huddling for a second consecutive day with key Cabinet members to discuss the possible ramifications of a U.S. strike against Syria.
Speaking at a memorial service for fallen soldiers, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said, “Those seeking to strike us will find us sharper and fiercer than ever. Our enemies must know we are determined to take any action needed to defend our citizens.”
Their comments followed statements this week by Syrian officials that they would hold Israel responsible for any U.S. strike. On Monday, Khalaf Muftah, a senior official in the ruling Baath Party, accused Israel of being “behind the [Western] aggression” and warned that Israel “will therefore come under fire.”
Syrian officials often seek to focus blame on Israel as a way of rallying support among the Syrian people.
27 August 2013 Last updated at 09:18 ET
Syria crisis: Where key countries stand
The possibility of Western strikes on Syria has divided opinion in the region
The US and its allies are said to be considering military action against sites in Syria. But what do countries in the region and beyond think about any possible action?
TurkeyThe Turkish government has been one of the most strident critics of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since early on in the uprising. On Monday Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Turkey’s Milliyet newspaper that the country was ready to join an international coalition for action against Syria even in the absence of agreement at the UN Security Council.
Saudi Arabia and the GulfThe monarchies of the Gulf are said to have been key in funding and supplying the rebel forces fighting against forces loyal to President Assad. Saudi Arabia has been a rival of the Syrian government for years and has been particularly active in pushing for action against Mr Assad, with former Saudi ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar bin Sultan reportedly trying in recent weeks to garner international support for further support for the rebels.
IsraelDespite initially avoiding becoming involved in the conflict, Israel has carried out three strikes on targets in Syria this year, reportedly to prevent weapons shipments reaching the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. Shelling and gunfire from Syria has also hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, drawing return Israeli fire.
In recent days, Israeli officials have condemned the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces and hinted at support for military action. “Our finger must always be on the pulse. Ours is a responsible finger and if necessary, it will also be on the trigger,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
However, Israeli officials will be aware that any Western action against Syria risks a repeat of events in the first Gulf War in 1991, when Iraq attacked Tel Aviv with Scud missiles in attempt to draw Israel into the conflict and prompt the withdrawal of Arab countries from the war. Reports say sales of gas masks in Israel have gone up in response to speculation over military action.
Lebanon is seeing increasing violence linked to the conflict in Syria
LebanonThe Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour told Lebanese radio on Monday that he did not support the idea of strikes on Syria, saying: “I don’t think this action would serve peace, stability and security in the region.”
Two bomb attacks which killed almost 60 people in Lebanon this month were linked to tensions over the Syrian conflict. The Lebanese Shia militant movement Hezbollah has openly taken part in combat in Syria on the side of the government, and there have been reports of some in the Sunni community fighting on the side of the rebels. In addition, the country is already playing host to the largest number of Syrian refugees of any country.
IranIran has been Syria’s main backer in the region since well before the current conflict and has been highly critical of any prospect of intervention.
On Tuesday, Iran warned a top UN official visiting Tehran of “serious consequences” of any military action.
Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Araqchi also repeated claims that it was in fact rebels who used chemical weapons, AFP reports.
Outside the region…..