First Published: 2012-11-11

 

Israel’s Syrian Collision Course

 

Unlike Turkey and Lebanon, Israel has largely kept its nose out of internal Syrian affairs largely over fears of de-legitimizing the opposition. As such, Israel needs no deterring, but instead serves the Assad regime as a function with which to threaten the West as its last resort, writes Daniel Nisman.

 

Middle East Online

"This is a Syrian matter which may turn into an Israeli matter." So noted IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz near the site where three of Assad’s tanks had penetrated the U.N.-designated demilitarized zone on the Golan Heights one day prior. Gantz’s prophecy wasn’t bluster, but rather a rare public admittance of what Israeli leaders have long feared: Israel will inevitably join its Arab neighbors in becoming embroiled in the Syrian civil war.

Saturday’s incursion didn’t violate Israel’s sovereignty, but nonetheless constituted violation of the countries’ long-standing ceasefire agreement, putting IDF command centers across northern Israel on high alert. Thus far, of the five nations bordering Syria (Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey), Israel has emerged relatively unscathed from the Syrian conflict, despite its perpetual state of war with Syria which has spanned six decades.

Despite the relative calm, the conflict in Syria has since forced Israel to contend with a variety of scenarios, including absorbing Syria’s fleeing minorities and the prospect of Sunni extremists filling the vacuum in the wake Assad’s ousting. While the IDF has gained experience in dealing with the above scenarios from the situation along Israel’s southern borders, its leadership is now faced with the far more disheartening prospect that Assad may purposefully lure the IDF into his conflict.

As Gantz and his staff have surely observed, the Assad regime has successfully engaged in a cynical campaign to destabilize its neighbors in the hopes of deterring them from supporting the Syrian opposition. In August 2012, the Syrian military withdrew from Kurdish-populated areas of northeastern Syria, allowing Kurdish militants to take control over large swathes of territory near the Turkish border. The withdrawal forced Turkey to reconsider its lead role in supporting the Syrian rebels, diverting Ankara’s attention to the prospects of its own Kurdish separatists using Syria as a staging ground for attacks. Indeed, soon after a deadly bombing hit the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep, Erdogan’s drums of intervention in Syria had taken a distinctly Kurdish tone, rather than a humanitarian one. In September, Assad further tested Turkey’s resolve when his forces were blamed for a deadly cross-border mortar attack in Turkish territory, resulting in a considerably restrained Turkish response.

In Lebanon and Jordan, meanwhile, Assad has been accused of sending agents to carry out destabilizing terror attacks, while sending thousands of refugees across their borders. In August 2012, Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF) arrested former MP Michel Samaha, on charges that the Assad regime had dispatched him to orchestrate attacks in Lebanon to collapse the country’s delicate sectarian balance. Heading up the investigation was Maj. Gen. Wissam Hassan, the target of a deadly car bombing in Beirut two months later.

Unlike Turkey and Lebanon, Israel has largely kept its nose out of internal Syrian affairs largely over fears of de-legitimizing the opposition. As such, Israel needs no deterring, but instead serves the Assad regime as a function with which to threaten the West as its last resort. Should it choose, the regime has a number of options from which to provoke the Israeli military, all of which allow Assad the benefit of plausible deniability. Following a rebel advance on Damascus in July 2012, Assad withdrew a division dedicated to patrolling the Israeli border from the Golan Heights. Like in the Kurdish northeast, the withdrawal turned the area into a virulent no-man’s land where Sunni rebels and (seemingly) rogue commanders would be free to fire into Israeli communities or commit other attacks.

As the Assad regime grows increasingly desperate, the prospects for a provocative attack against Israel will only increase, leading to a widely-feared regional escalation. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has already threatened that Israeli intervention in Syria would cause his militia to unleash some 70,000 rockets currently pointed at the Jewish State. It's a scenario the Israelis have planned for since it had become evident in July that military intervention could be necessary to stop Assad’s chemical weapons from being transferred to extremist groups, including Hezbollah. Meanwhile, the IDF Home Front Command has spent the last few months drilling mass casualty rocket attacks across Israel's Northern District to the point of exhaustion, while the IDF has replaced its reservist units on the Golan Heights with far more capable draft units.

There should be little doubt in anyone’s mind that fresh plans for military intervention aren't sitting on Gantz’s desk in Tel Aviv’s Kiyra military complex. Nowhere in those plans are options for restraint in the face of a mass-casualty border attack like that which occurred in Turkey, or pledges for neutrality like those made following Beirut’s deadly car bombing. The term “powder keg” would be the fitting term to describe the situation had it not become such a cliche in the Middle East.

Daniel Nisman is a senior analyst and intelligence manager at Max Security Solutions, a geopolitical risk consulting firm based in Tel Aviv, Israel. You can follow him on Twitter @Dannynis

 

US, Arab allies unleash deadly strikes against IS jihadists in Syria

New Gaza truce talks set for end of October

Libya parliament approves Thani’s cabinet lineup

Arab Bank found liable for backing terrorism

Qatar ‘will not host’ 2022 World Cup: Blame it on temperatures!

Israel kills 2 Palestinians suspected of murdering three teens

Bahrain sets November 22 date for parliament vote

Kuwaiti acquits 67 stateless protesters

French PM: 'No discussion' with Algeria hostage-takers

US-led strikes target IS jihadists in Syria

World leaders confront crises on many fronts at UN

Kurds slow jihadist advance on key border town in northern Syria

Mossad launches new website to recruit potential spooks

Saudi second Crown Prince: We must protect our youth from ‘forces of darkness’

Australia to join US-led air campaign in Iraq

Freed to be rearrested: Palestinian prisoners plan hunger strike

Lebanon describes abuse of Syria detainees as ‘isolated incident’

Abadi opposes foreign ground intervention in Iraq

Algeria army eliminates ‘terrorist chief’ in Kabylie region

Huthi rebels hold key Sanaa offices after hard-won peace deal

Better safe than sorry: EU boosts security after jihadist threat

Iran conducts arrests over ‘SMS Khomeini insults’

Rouhani: Iran cornerstone of stability in Mideast

4 Saudis sentenced to death in 'bloodiest terror' cell

Australia’s Howard 'embarrassed' US intel on Iraq WMD unfounded

IS urges Muslims to kill citizens from US-led coalition

Over 130,000 Syrian Kurds flee to Turkey

South Sudan peace talks resume in Ethiopia

Iraq loses communication with soldiers near Fallujah

Palestinians intensive diplomatic campaign on three fronts

Rival Yemen groups sign UN-brokered deal

US discusses IS militant threat with arch-foe Iran

Turkey's PKK urges fellow Kurds to fight IS jihadists in Syria

UN warns over 'forcible transfer' of Palestinian Bedouin

Syria denies use of chlorine chemicals

Court verdict paves way for release of activist Mahienour el-Massry

IS fighters lay siege to Syria Kurdish town of Ain al-Arab

Huthi seditious plans come out in open: Capture of government HQ in Sanaa

Israel steps up cyber-defense with new national body

Egypt military aircraft crashes after technical failure

Erdogan confesses: Turkey held ‘diplomatic negotiations’ with Islamic State

Pope denounces Islamic State: Religion cannot be used to justify violence!

Solution according to Huthis: Deal in Saada and battles in Sanaa

Bloody attack strikes outside Egypt Foreign Ministry in Cairo

Mediators denounce ‘senseless fighting’ in South Sudan