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10 Things to Know About Israel vs. Syria

Syrian children apparently cleaning up the street, April 26, 2013, via Flickr user TITAN9389.

A lot is going down right now in the Middle East.

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We can't deny that the situation isn't complicated, but we can give you 10 basic facts to understand the ongoing conflict. (And if you'd like a little more background, we've got that too.)

1. Israel attacked Syria.

It happened on Sunday, and it was actually the second attack in three days. Israel says they struck Syria to prevent Syrian government forces from delivering weapons to Hezbollah, a militant Islamic group dedicated to destroying Israel, not to enter into the civil war in Syria. (Hezbollah is also allied with the Syrian government against the rebels.)

The areas hit were places of weapon storage. The strikes also killed dozens of Syrian government troops.

2. The U.S., UK, and France were secretly talking about using American airstrikes to deter the Syrian government from using chemical weapons, shortly before the Israeli strikes.

Senator John McCain. From Flickr user Medill DC.

Senator John McCain. From Flickr user Medill DC.

U.S. lawmakers were reportedly encouraging President Obama to arm Syrian rebel forces. Senator John McCain is a huge supporter of waging airstrikes on Syria. He said, "the Israelis seem to be able to penetrate it fairly easily.”

3. Syria might strike back.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad said Syria intends to retaliate against Israel:

"When they attack, this is a declaration of war. This is not something that is (new). We dealt with this on several occasions, and we retaliated the way we wanted, and the retaliation was always painful to Israel, and they will suffer again."

But how will they retaliate? No one's really sure.

On one hand, Syria publicly condemned the strikes, saying that they "opened the door to all possibilities." On the other, a country in the midst of a bloody civil war is not in the best place to wage war against powerful Israel.

4. Then again, this whole thing is probably really about Iran.

Could the Israeli government have been telling the truth when officials said that attacks were actually to prevent weapons from going to Hezbollah, in Iran?

Yeah, actually.

While the ongoing civil war in Syria is worrisome, Israel is at odds with Iran and Hezbollah. And Iran doesn't seem shy about engaging with Israel.

5. Who's in charge

In case you need a quick intro or refresher:

Bashar and Asma al-Assad in 2003. By Ricardo Stuckert/ABr via Wikimedia Commons.

Bashar Al-Assad - Syrian President. His administration opposes the rebel forces in his country, which is currently in the midst of a horrific civil war.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, on April 9, 2013, from U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv via Flickr.

Benjamin Netanyahu - Prime Minister of Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama on March 20, 2013, from The Israel Project via Flickr.

Barack Obama - President of the United States. Concerned about chemical weapons in Syria, and the increasingly escalating conflict.

Israeli newspapers with coverage of Hassan Nasrallah, Feb. 27, 2013, from The Israel Project via Flickr.

Hassan Nasrallah - Leader of Hezbollah.

6. The U.N. says there's "conclusive proof" of chemical weapons in Syria.

From Wikimedia Commons

From Wikimedia Commons.

So, there's that.

Chemical weapons are considered Weapons of Mass Destruction, or WMD's. So when they're used, it's a game changer. The chemical weapon in question here is called sarin.

But so far it's not entirely clear whether the Syrian government used chemical weapons.

7. The U.N. says it has 'strong, concrete' suspicions that Syrian rebel forces have used chemical weapons themselves.

Did both sides use chemical weapons? It's possible but not clear.

8. The U.S. is maybe possibly considering getting involved.

There are mixed messages coming out of the White House on Syria.

Is the U.S. considering arming the rebels? That's what Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says.

But on Friday, Obama said this:

“I do not foresee a scenario in which boots on the ground in Syria — American boots on the ground in Syria — would not only be good for America but also would be good for Syria.”

So which is it?

There's also been a lot of talk about what Obama really meant when he said the use of chemical weapons was a "red line" that would "change [his] calculus" when it comes to Syria.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government has supplied the Syrian people with some aid.

9. Russia and China are alarmed.

Um, in case you were wondering?

The two countries also weighed in on the Syria vs. Israel conflict today and both are trying to talk Syria off a ledge, away from striking back on Israel.

Ironically, this was a year ago, when Russia and China voted against U.N. measures to try and reduce the violence:

10. This is a big mess.

Rubble in Syria. From Flickr user FreedomHouse

Rubble in Syria. From Flickr user FreedomHouse

This New York Times Op-Ed on the Syrian civil war kind of sums it up:

"After more than two years of conflict and more than 70,000 deaths, including thousands of children. ... After more than five million people have been forced to leave their homes, including over a million refugees living in severely stressed neighboring countries ... After so many families torn apart and communities razed, schools and hospitals wrecked and water systems ruined ... After all this, there still seems to be an insufficient sense of urgency among the governments and parties that could put a stop to the cruelty and carnage in Syria."

Th question is, what should be done, and who should do it?

Related stories

Here's some more useful background:

Will the 'Game Changer' in Syria Push the U.S. Into War? >>

Well, That Escalated Quickly: What's Happening in Syria >>

A Handy Playbook on the Conflict in Syria >>

The Unbelievably Helpful Gaza Glossary >>

The Kicker

Help Syrian Refugees >>

Sign a Change.org petition to protest crimes against children in Syria >>

Find out through the Syrian American Counsel what you can do to help >>

Images used under Creative Commons licensing.

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10 Things to Know About Israel vs. Syria

Lily Altavena

Lily is currently a TV news producer in Dallas, Texas. Previously, she was a production assistant at MSNBC. She is also a recent NYU grad. She interned for Ann Curry’s team at NBC News, The New York Times, The Village Voice, and the education nonprofit She’s the First. Her interests range from politics to education to comedy. She is not actually a dinosaur. Follow: @lilyalta.

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6 Responses

  1. dabenger says:

    I am a big supporter of Kicker, and I feel your strong suit is generally simplifying complex stories, and removing a lot of the spin that commercial media outlets tend to favor (you guys are like Bill O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone,” but kind of the opposite). This article, however, missed the mark quite significantly. First of all, the headline is off base. There is no Israel vs. Syria. There is a Civil War within Syria. Syria happens to be a fairly large and very heavily armed country that has had less than amicable relations with their Israeli neighbors since the Israeli declaration of independence in 1948. Israel is understandably nervous about having such a large foe thrown into turmoil right on its borders. In an act of pre-emptive self-defense, which has been Israel’s modus operandi since 1967, they launched a targeted strike against Syrian weapons stock and supply routes. This was not an attack on Syria, by any means. It was merely an implementation of a strategy that is meant to dissuade Syrian weapons from making their way West toward the Israeli border or, worse yet, falling into the hands of Hezbollah, the terrorist organization which exudes significant control over Southern Lebanon. To say that Israel attacked Syria is a gross  mis-characterization of the facts, and could easily lead readers astray.

    • Jgreene1672 says:

      dabenger well said benger. Not to mention multiple instances of mortar and artillery fire landing in Israel from Syria. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323741004578419012330295542.html

    • goKicker says:

      dabengerThanks so much for your comment. We see what you’re saying, but we do stand by what we wrote. Here’s why:
      1. As we noted, the strikes were carried out on Syrian soil – and 42 Syrian soldiers were killed.

      2. The word “attack” is being used fairly widely (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/06/world/middleeast/after-strikes-in-syria-concerns-about-an-escalation-of-fighting.html, for example) to describe Israel’s actions.
      We noted clearly in the post that the primary intention is to keep weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah. And yet, as we also noted, Syria is talking about

      4. Some experts believe Israel may actually also be sending a message about its stance
      on the civil war with these strikes. This from NYT:
      “The Israelis were responding to a
      different threat, in the form of weapons being sent to the Islamic
      militant group Hezbollah. But the Israeli attacks also sent Mr. Assad a
      strong message of deterrence about using his chemical weapons, which
      Israelis say pose a particular threat to them.”

      We’re so glad you took the time to give us feedback. Reasonable people can surely disagree about how best to characterize complex acts and situations like this one, and if we’re helping to stir thought and dialogue, we’re glad. We’re trying to give people a place to start to get informed, and we hope we’ve done that. Thanks again. 
       – Team Kicker

  2. Urbane_Gorilla says:

    To my way of thinking, there has been a steady drum beat to get us involved in an internal war. I look at our decades of meddling and all I see is one failure after another. I suspect we do not understand these other cultures very well, and I’m certain we’ll enter without any goals or exit plan. So I ask:  Why are we meddling in a civil war? What do we hope to achieve if we enter? Do we have a plan, adeadline or a cost control? Are we going to send our GIs over there too?  If we enter Syria, exactly which of the several rebel groups will we align ourselves with? What will we do when a ‘democratic election’ is held and the wrong people are elected? What will we do when the civil war is over? Will we ever leave? These are serious questions we should resolve based on the screwed up messes we’ve involved ourselves in before. I’d like to point out, regardless of statements from our government, just as we never left Korea, we are still not out of Iraq and we will be in Afghanistan and Iraq  for decades. We’ll just have a “limited military and CIA presence” and an enormous ongoing bill for secret CIA bribes and civilian contractors which cost 5 times what a GI does.
    Lastly, if our country is incapable of adequately taking care of its own people and its own problems, why are we in such a rush to ‘take care’ of another country’s people? Does Reagan’s quip “We’re from (the American) government, and we’re here to help” not apply elsewhere?

  3. […] You know when you’re at a party and everyone’s talking about the latest piece of breaking news…and you have no idea what’s going on? Kicker wants to change all of that. Check out its ‘Today in 10‘ feature, which offers a quick yet comprehensive recap of the day that was. Tuesday’s ‘Today in 10′: 10 Things to Know About Israel vs Syria. […]