Mark Landler said his newspaper received a telephone call today (May 15) from an unnamed Israeli official who threatened more airstrikes against Syria and warned that if the Assad regime retaliates it would face “crippling consequences.” When contacted by the newspaper, Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesperson, refused to comment on the allegation.
Later in the day, Landler quoted these threats in a column titled, “Israel Hints at New Strikes, Warning Syria Not to Retaliate,” in which the Israeli official said that a Syrian military response could lead to the overthrow of the Assad regime.
The Israeli official said: ‘Israel is determined to continue to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah. The transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah will destabilize and endanger the entire region.’
‘If Syrian President Assad reacts by attacking Israel, or tries to strike Israel through his terrorist proxies,” the official said, “he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate.’
The Israeli official, who has been briefed by high-level officials on the Syria situation in the past two days, declined to be identified, citing the need to protect internal Israeli deliberations. He contacted The New York Times on Wednesday.
The precise motives for Israel’s warning were uncertain: Israel could be trying to restrain Syria’s behavior without undertaking further military action, or alerting other countries to another strike.
I question the newsworthiness of this column, attributed to an unnamed and uncorroborated source. After all, Israel has recently attacked Syria and has repeatedly made this threat after the last airstrike. As Landler states, Israel may be warning Syria against taking some action that the Assad regime is contemplating. If this is the case, is it the role of Landler and his paper to make this threat public when the Israelis refuse to do so?
There is no mention that the Israeli attack, never mind the overthrow of a foreign government, is an act which violates international law. Even threatening such aggression is contrary to agreed-upon rules governing member states of the UN.
It seems to me that Landler’s column is an instance of The New York Times inappropriately acting as an agent for the Israeli government.
I guess this would not be the first time.
Update: Within hours after the Landler column appeared, his story became the lede on the Israeli Internet site of the daily, Ma’ariv. The headline: Israel threatens Assad: If you react, you would lose your government.