Whatever decision is made by the White House and Congress on intervening in Syria, the military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel continues to flourish, and is deeply appreciated by Israeli defense officials.
The most recent example of this cooperation came on Tuesday, when the Israeli Ministry of Defense held a missile drill over the Mediterranean Sea, with the assistance of the Pentagon and the U.S. Missile Defense Agency.
The exercise involved the firing of a new type of decoy missile in order to test the radar and tracking systems of the Arrow missile defense shield, which protects Israelis from Iranian and Syrian ballistic missile threats. Although planned in advance, the timing of the exercise could hardly be more relevant, in light of the upsurge in Iranian and Syrian threats. The test missile was initially picked up by Russian navy radars, and Moscow's announcement of its radar readouts led Israel to formally acknowledge the test soon afterwards.
President Barack Obama has been sending mixed signals over his determination to take action on WMD offenses by the Syrian regime; this in turn is casting doubt over his determination to fulfill an even more significant pledge he made regarding global security: the promise that the U.S. will not allow Iran to become a nuclear weapons state.
Whether or not Obama is successful in persuading Congress to authorize punitive military action in Syria, he has already sent out a hesitant, insecure message to the Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah axis, first by indicating that action was imminent, and then by backtracking to seek Congress's approval.
The U-turn, which stunned even Obama's aides, came after several previous uses of chemical weapons by the Assad regime were overlooked by the U.S. Administration.
Seeking Congress's approval may, of course, make sense in terms of domestic American politics, but in the savage Middle Eastern arena, dominated by ruthless actors who search for clues of weakness among adversaries and push boundaries when they sense insecurity, Obama's actions have given the rulers in Tehran and Damascus cause for celebration.
In Syria, the Alawite regime of Bashar Assad, which is being kept alive by Iranian and Hezbollah military assistance as well as Russian arms sales, has been given valuable time to move critical assets that might be targeted in a U.S. strike. Meanwhile, Syrian and Iranian spokesmen pile on threats to set the region ablaze and boast of an American "retreat."
According to the IDF's assessments, such threats stand a low chance of being realized, but they are indicative of the uplifted mood of the Iran-led axis. The threats were not completely ignored by Israel -- despite the assessment, basic precautionary measures have been put in place. These measures included the deployment of air defenses across the country, beefing up forces on the Syria border, and calling up limited numbers of reserves to the air force, Military Intelligence, and the Home Front Command -- the military branches needed to initially contain a potential threat from Syria.
In Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei will likely be feeling emboldened by the international community's struggle to get behind a limited cruise missile strike, against a small number of targets in a failed state ravaged by civil war. How much more difficult will it then be for a US-led coalition resolutely to confront Iran, a regional power, which is continuing in its march towards nuclear weapons, and which has fortified and spread out its nuclear program facilities around its vast Iranian territory?
Obama's eleventh-hour hesitation on Syria, combined with the desire to decrease America's Mideast profile, in line with a strategic shift to the Far East, and failure to back traditional, loyal U.S. allies, such as the Egyptian military against the Muslim Brotherhood, has unfortunately undermined American credibility in the cut-throat Mideast region. In the Middle East, proof of resoluteness gains respect from allies and garners fear from enemies, while talk of high ideals mixed with wavering measures gains scorn and contempt.
In the midst of the regional turmoil sits Israel, which, while hopeful that its American ally will reinstate traditional and vital US deterrence and influence, is not counting on it. Jerusalem is preparing to face down on its own any entities that threaten its security, and has made no secret of its determination to direct, if need be, devastating firepower -- backed by unprecedented levels of intelligence capabilities -- at those who seek to do it harm. Even if Israel is forced to take on its enemies alone, American-Israeli cooperation will remain a critical asset for Israeli security.
Israeli deterrence has been based on its willingness to confront its enemies and military might. These factors, observed by the Syrians, Iranians, and Hezbollah, have historically made conflict less likely, not more.