How Do You Say Patriot Missile in Hebrew?

Chris Dierkes

Chris Dierkes (aka CJ Smith). 29 years old, happily married, adroit purveyor and voracious student of all kinds of information, theories, methods of inquiry, and forms of practice. Studying to be a priest in the Anglican Church in Canada. Main interests: military theory, diplomacy, foreign affairs, medieval history, religion & politics (esp. Islam and Christianity), and political grand bargains of all shapes and sizes.

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6 Responses

  1. North says:

    What a nightmare, I hope you’re wrong. The potential for catastrophic levels of deaths would be sky high.Report

  2. Cynic says:

    This is a little too glib. I don’t think any serious analyst doubts that Syria is pursuing what it perceives to be its own self-interest. The alarm stems from the fact that Syria is seeking to alter the regional balance of power. That’s an inherently destabilizing move in a region where peace is always a precarious balance among contending interests. Proliferation of new capabilities is indeed belligerence, and is recognized as such both by policy makers and by international law.

    Moreover, you spend too much time on the ManPad capabilities, and too little on the Scuds. Handing out sophisticated shoulder-fired weapons is an action with consequences, to be sure; they’re now under Hezbollah’s control, and can be aimed as readily at civilian flights as at military aircraft. But the real issue here is Scuds, which you cavalierly dismiss as ‘deterrents.’ Really, Chris? What’s the nature of the deterrence? They’re inaccurate, long-range weapons that lack the precision needed to target military sites. They have two functions – delivery vehicles for dispersive weapons, for which accuracy is not necessary; or targeting civilian areas, where inaccuracy is practically a virtue. So let’s be perfectly explicit that Syria is attempting to enhance its regional standing by handing over the capability to randomly kill civilians to a proxy. If you want to consider that deterrence, I suppose that’s your right. But it’s the more technologically sophisticated equivalent of the suicide bomber in a cafe. Syria knows that perfectly well. Ask yourself this key question – if Syria already possesses such weapons, how does handing them over to Hezbollah increase Syrian security? It doesn’t increase the number of rockets aimed at Israel. If Syria were prepared to launch them itself in retaliation for strikes on military targets, handing them over should lessen Syrian security by reducing its arsenal and its control of the situation. So for the logic to work, it must mean that Syria is either eager to hand the weapons to a proxy with a lower threshold for killing civilians, or that it’s prepared to have those civilians killed in retaliation for strikes outside its own borders. And also that it’s not prepared to directly pay the costs of such strikes, and is hoping for plausible deniability. Tell me again why Assad shouldn’t be viewed with contempt for this act? This has nothing to do with deterrence, and everything to do with negotiating posture and regional standing. And that’s not a good enough excuse for proliferation.

    Your analysis of Hezbollah’s aims is equally flawed. There is no evidence that the return of Sheba’a Farms would lead to peace; Nasrallah has, in fact, been entirely explicit on the point. The land has been certified by the UN as belonging to Syria, a claim that Israel actually recognizes. The Lebanese claim it as theirs, in defiance of international law. And the Syrians have maintained a calculated posture of ambiguity, designed to inflame the situation and leverage Lebanese resentment while maintaining their own claim to the land. What would you have Israel do, exactly? Pull out, and hand Syrian land over to Hezbollah or Lebanon? And if it did, why wouldn’t your logic regarding the Baathist regime in Damascus apply in equal force to Nasrallah? Hezbollah’s very foundation is opposition to the Zionist regime. It is the bedrock of its support. I doubt it could survive a formal declaration of peace with Israel, without seeing its base splinter and fragment. And even the current uneasy calm has been destabilizing – Hezbollah’s drive to re-arm and train is evidence of that concern. Without the organizing imperative of conflict, it lacks a basis as a movement, so even when it’s not actively engaged it must prepare for the next engagement.

    And, for what it’s worth, Hebrew for Patriot is pronounced HetzReport

    • Chris Dierkes in reply to Cynic says:


      On Hezbollah, it’s also moved into the position of being a vehicle for Shia Arab Lebanese uplift. Not the only one (Amal). It’s entered electoral politics. It also (like any crew over there) exists to funnel money, influence to your cronies. I assume all of those could still exist after a presumed peace deal.

      I don’t think such a deal is at all likely to happen but I don’t think the deal is in principle impossible. If something ever were to happen with the Lebanese gov’t, that would really isolate Hezbollah. Perhaps they would balk, but that could leave them seriously left out of the economic future. That doesn’t guarantee their actions, but I think it would shape them.

      Do you really think Syria is going to launch a pre-emptive strike with some Scuds on Israel? Whether via Hezbollah or on their own? Particularly after the public announcement by the Israeli Defense Minister that Israel knows Syria gave them away?

      If there ever were an attack with Scuds, the Israelis are clearly signaling they will retaliate against Syria. As would be their right. Hezbollah is many things, but dumb is not generally one of them.

      As to civilian casualties this is a pretty specious point. If there ever were an all out war between Syria and Israel, Israel is going to drop bombs from airplanes that will kill civilians. War in the 20th and 21st centuries does not (ever) separate between civilian and non-civilian in any fundamental sense. Partly this is because non-state actors hide in civilian areas. Partly this is because aerial assaults inevitably cause “collateral damage.”

      It’s deterrence (I think) in the sense that all of Syria’s actions in helping arm Hezbollah act as deterrence. It gives them a more weaponized ally that has a common enemy, potentially making Israel think twice about an attack.

      I agree with you that Syria (and also Iran) are trying to shift the balance of power in the Middle East. I think that shift is occurring anyway for all kinds of reasons (ideological, demographic, economic). I’m not supporting the Syrian or Iranian regime. I don’t want to see conflagration in the Middle East.

      As I’ve said before, I think that shift will apex if and when the Iranians get a nuclear weapon. I think such an action would require (likely) an American nuclear shield guarantee to the Gulf, Israel (who doesn’t need it per se), Saudi Arabia, etc.

      What I see Syria doing is just a smaller scale version of the Iranian regime’s efforts over the last years.

      Daniel Larison the last few days has been quoting Peter Scoblete on how with the rise of democracy in the Middle East we are likely to see increasingly oppositional (if not directly confrontational) regimes relative to US/Israel in the region.

      This puts the US/Israel in a short term lose-lose: either support autocracies for short term peace or accept more democratic regimes that will likely sap some of their regional dominance.

      I favor (generally though not in all specific cases) the latter option.Report

      • North in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        @Chris Dierkes,
        The one take away for me is that the clock is ticking on the current (relatively) favorable situation Israel finds itself in. This underlines and puts an exclamation mark on what a colossal and imbecilic disaster Bibi and his coalition represent for Israel as they are essentially frittering away time and good will that would be much more productively employed bargaining and resolving issues from Israel’s current position of strength. Israel has the freedom to move almost in any direction at this time. Their (potential and current) opponents are either prone, harmless, in disarray or inclined towards the Jewish state. And yet with conditions being as they are now, on the ground, in the Middle East we are treated to the spectacle of Bibi and his religious crackpot government either literally maintaining the status quo or allowing the Israeli rightwing fringe to actively entangle them further with their neighbors. They need a new election, soon.Report

      • Cynic in reply to Chris Dierkes says:

        @Chris Dierkes,
        There’s a lot here about which we agree. The Middle East is indeed in a state of flux, that’s likely to result in a shifting of the balance of power. We’re better off betting on the long-term reform of civil society and opening of political systems than forging short-term alliances with unsavory regimes. And no one wants war in the region.

        On a few other matters, though, I continue to disagree. The distinctions between deliberate targeting of civilian populations, indiscriminate fire, and collateral damage are not specious. They are the very foundation of international law, and set the rules under which Western militaries operate. It’s one thing to recognize that, even when waged with the best of intentions and strictest procedures, wars inevitably take a heavy toll upon the lives of innocent civilians, and so should never be lightly entertained. Surgical strikes and precision-guided-munitions still kill. But to erase those distinctions, to make a claim of equivalence, is even worse. I just don’t know how to argue with someone who doesn’t share that basic premise.

        I still don’t see your point about deterrence. There’s been no increase in the number of Scuds targeting Israel, just a shift in where they’re located, and by whom they’re controlled. If Syria was already prepared to use Scuds in retaliatory attacks, it gained no additional deterrence vis a vis Israel by means of this transfer. Indeed, by surrendering control of part of its arsenal to another regional actor, it diminished its own ability to calibrate a response to attacks.

        So this isn’t about Syria deterring Israeli strikes on Syria. Rather, this move accomplishes three things for the Syrian regime. First, it contributes to the continued destabilization of Lebanon, by strengthening the position and influence of Hezbollah. Syria does not wish to see a unified state next door, pursuing its own objectives. Second, it strengthens the position of Hezbollah vis a vis Israel. Syria itself would never launch Scuds during a spat between Hezbollah and Israel; it much prefers to arm and train Hezbollah, encouraging it to damage Israel without suffering Israeli retaliation. It knows perfectly well that Scud attacks launched from Syria would invite the devastation of its own infrastructure, and risk the stability of the regime. So it’s moving Scuds from its own control, where they are unlikely to be used, to the control of Hezbollah, where they’re much more likely to be employed. And that has the additional benefit of heightening Syria’s regional prestige and domestic popularity, by demonstrating the strength of its support for those resisting the Zionist entity. The third effect is to strengthen the regime’s international influence, by demonstrating a measure of the harm it is capable of inflicting upon the region if it is not appeased. Already, there is a chorus of calls for closer engagement, and that’s just from transferring a handful of missiles. Assad isn’t stupid. He doesn’t want to be isolated. He understands that the present international consensus supports engagement over sanctions; that, ironically, proliferating weapons and destabilizing the region may be the best way to clear the taint of Hariri.

        Regarding Hezbollah and its intentions, I’ll refer you to the work of Andrew Exum, who knows far more than I. He’s written insightfully, I think, on the internal dynamics of the group that contribute to what he terms its ‘strategic incoherence.’ He points out that, among other things, its fighters signed up to fight. That Hezbollah has increasingly made its military wing into a ‘cult of resistance.’ And that it’s far from clear that, even if the politico-religious leadership wished to arrive at a modus vivendi with either other Lebanese factions or with Israel, that the young men whom it has armed and trained would be interested in following their lead. That’s a singularly depressing thought, but it’s also one that demands contemplation.

        Finally, I’ll just return to my original point. What Syria did by transferring these weapons was not trivial or excusable. There’s a distinct possibility that the transfer may yet spark regional war. And that can’t be laid at the feet of either American or Israeli strategy. The regional actor that just made a major, unprovoked move was Syria. It’s a reminder, and a useful one, that our own strategic plans and actions don’t control the situation – other actors may move unexpectedly in ways that confound our desires.

        If you want to inveigh against American foreign policy, go right ahead. If you want to press for comprehensive peace deals, fine. But there’s no reason why such points should preclude the possibility that we’re not the only ones in the region acting in a stupid or self-defeating manner. And, in this case, Syria’s actions demonstrate just that.Report