Syrian border (Photo by Cody A. Hoffman)
It was a calculated pre-emptive strike, notes Tom Doyle, an expert on the Middle East with E3 Partners. "Syria's not capable of doing anything. Assad is trying to keep his government together. He just has a massive war going on there." Hezbollah and Iran are also under pressure at the moment, and nobody can afford to start a war.
Various conflicting news reports are still coming in about the strike. The most credible report, says Doyle, is that Israel apparently targeted a convoy believed to be carrying anti-aircraft weapons bound for Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese militant group allied with Syria and Iran.
It's another sign of growing concern that Syria's regime may be crumbling. Doyle says, "What Israel is concerned about is if there was a Sunni takeover, if Assad was deposed, and the government collapsed, then there are at least some chemical weapons. There have been some beginnings of nuclear things going on there in Syria, which would be pretty unstable."
Meanwhile, the tough talk has started. Russia--Syria's strongest international ally--said Moscow is taking "urgent measures to clarify the situation in all its details." On January 31, Syria complained to the UN over the Israeli strike, saying it violated the 1974 disengagement agreement. Relations between the two sides have remained prickly since they remain technically at war.
That possibility of a flare-up is exactly what Israel's pre-emptive strike was meant to prevent. Their greatest concern is a collaborative effort. Doyle notes, "Israel, in the last couple of years, has just virtually become surrounded. Hezbollah has control of the government in Lebanon, and then [there's] the takeover by the Brotherhood in Egypt. Iran is ramping up, openly boasting about fighting Israel. They're just trying to pre-empt anything that might completely destabilize their region."
Meanwhile, the threat of retaliation--or worse--puts the refugees in the middle. It makes little difference to the thousands who are fleeing Syria. On Monday, there were 3,000 people crossing into Jordan. Among them are Christians, some of whom sought refuge in Syria from persecution in Iraq. Now, everything is up in the air again, says Doyle. "They say, ‘There are no good guys" here. It's not like they love Bashar Assad, but most believers that we know say that it's probably better that he stays than if Sunnis take over, which would probably force hardline Sharia law Islam onto the country."
Still, it is believers who are responding to the refugees. That, in and of itself, is unusual. "These are Sunni Muslims coming from Syria. They're being driven out by Assad, they're landing in Jordan, and they're finding a place to stay in Jordan. They're getting food, coats, and blankets from Christians here."
Because the refugees find rougher treatment elsewhere, they're drawn to the compassion shown by the "Bible people," as they've come to be known. "Ministries [are] banding together to be Jesus to them. We have met some new believers from Sunni Muslim background. They just openly say, ‘I love Jesus. I love the Bible people. They're the only ones not trying to harm us.'"
What the future holds is uncertain. Christians are taking the time they have to bring hope and peace to a ragged people. Will you pray for wisdom and safety for believers? Click here for ways you can help.