Israel is preparing for all of these possibilities by increasing its intelligence gathering operations (evidenced by the successful attacks this weekend) and bolstering its border defenses. Old guard posts on the Golan have been re-staffed and the Israeli northern command has recently drilled a whole reserve division in a mock-emergency call-up exercise. Israel also deployed Iron Dome anti-missile batteries and temporarily closed the civilian airspace in the north of the country. Such preparation may decrease the carnage any Syrian or Hezbollah response causes and give Israeli leaders some political breathing space — but they won’t solve the fundamental tensions caused by the chaos and uncertainty in Syria and Lebanon.
Perhaps the best Israel — or any of America’s regional allies — can do now is to try to protect its interests in Syria, while managing the unrest and violence that spills out of the country. Yet here the United States has an important role to play. In different ways, key U.S. allies — Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Turkey, and now Israel — are intervening in Syria. Ideally, the United States would make its own objectives and strategy clear to its allies and convince them to bolster America’s own policy.
But for now the Obama administration does not seek overtly to lead the international response to the Syria crisis. That’s not quite good enough. At the very least, Washington needs to coordinate allied interventions so together they make it more likely that Bashar’s regime will fall and Syria will return to stability. At the very least, the administration must make sure they are not working at cross purposes and that the actions of one power do not harm the interests of another.
Byman is a professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and the research director of the Saban Center at Brookings. He is also the author of “A High Price: The Triumphs and Failures of Israeli Counterterrorism.” Sachs is a fellow at the Saban Center where he writes on Israeli politics and security.