It’s been said already and will be said again, but Israel’s two weekend attacks on Hezbollah targets in Syria make clear that Bashar al Assad’s much-vaunted air force is not as much-vaunted as many would have it. Does that mean that a few quickie strikes from neighboring Israel equal a longer air campaign to take out Assad’s ability to attack and kill his own people via the air? No. Does it mean the same as patrolling a safe corridor? Also no. But it doesn’t mean nothing, either.
The mythology of Arab power – and Syrian power in particular – has gripped Western minds for too long. We heard how awesome Saddam’s army was before it was crushed in 1991. We hear how fantabulous the Syrians are. But there are a few points to keep in mind. First, we fight with the best weaponry, the best people, and pace sequestration, we still have the capacity to knock out the likes of Assad’s air force. Second, in short, they don’t. Russian equipment isn’t as lousy as the Soviet machinery that used to arm Moscow’s pets in the Arab world. But it sure as hell isn’t American or Israeli. It’s true that the Syrians aren’t the embarrassingly pathetic force they were during the Six Day War, but Washington still has a penchant for overestimating Assad. First, he was a reformer. Then he was a guy who was going to step down after negotiations. Now he’s bad, but super strong.
We may not want to help enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, or patrol a safe corridor. We may not want to take out Assad’s air power. The CJCS says we can though it’ll be very tough, but frets – perhaps fairly, perhaps not – about Syria attacking the United States via other means. The point here is that Israel wanted to do something, and did it with some ease. Right now, Obama doesn’t want to do anything. That’s the bottom line.