Why would Israel launch airstrikes in Syria? Questions and answers

Published: Sunday, May 5 2013 3:28 p.m. MDT

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The uprising against Assad erupted in March 2011 and quickly evolved into a civil war, leaving tens of thousands dead and millions displaced. Assad and those trying to topple him remain locked in a battlefield stalemate, with neither side able to deliver a decisive blow.

The rebels are dominated by Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, while Assad is a member of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. He as rallied hardcore supporters around him, including members of Syria's ethnic and religious minorities who prefer the current regime to Sunni majority rule.

During four decades of rule, Assad and his father and predecessor, Hafez, used Syria's staunchly anti-Israel positions as a source of legitimacy even though both men kept Syria's frontier with the Jewish state quiet.

Syria's civil war has increasingly eroded Assad's anti-Israel "credentials," after the regime attacked Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, made up of Sunnis, broke with the regime because of its crackdown on the rebels.

If Assad does not retaliate for the latest Israeli strikes, his claims to anti-Israel militancy would become even more tenuous. In an attempt to deflect attention, Syrian government officials on Sunday tried to portray the Syrian opposition as engaged in a common cause with Israel.

Future Israeli air attacks could also wipe out key Syrian military installations. Rebel forces have managed to seize a number of Syrian military bases, seizing heavier weapons but have advanced only slowly because of the regime's air superiority.
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