Sunday, June 01, 2014

Israel cautious in Syria

According to Jonathan Spyer, who provides in-depth and well-informed reports of the situation inside Syria in The Jerusalem Post, Israel is engaged in Syria in a limited and cautious manner.  Israel has taken in about 1,000 Syrian rebels and civilians for medical treatment in hospitals in the north and through them has learnt a great deal about what is going on in the regions of conflict, particularly adjacent to the Golan Heights.  This includes several high level military commanders of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Also, Israel has excellent reconaissance over the area with drones and human intelligence (humint).  But, the situation is particularly complex, involving a war within a war.
From an Israeli perspective there are two potentially disastrous outcomes, if either the Hizbollah forces fighting for the Assad regime or the rebel Islamist groups such as the al Nusrah front capture parts of the Syrian Golan Heights.  Both of these terrorist groups are violently anti-Israel and would certainly use their presence adjacent to the b order to carry out attacks.  Note that Hizbollah are Shia and supported by Iran and the al Nusrah front are Sunni and allied to al Qaeda.  The only alternative to these forces that are acceptable to Israel and the US is the so-called democratic opposition, which includes the FSA.  Israel is engaged in a limited way in helping and supporting the FSA, just as the US and several EU countries are doing.  It is important that military supplies send to support the anti-Assad forces go to the democratic opposition and do not fall into the hands of the Islamists.  Israel is playing a role to ensure that this is what happens.
From previous experience in Lebanon, the Israeli military establishment has a bad institutional memory of intervening in inter-Arab conflicts.  On the other hand, when Israel itself is attacked or threatened, it is necessary for the IDF to act.  Thus, the IAF has attacked several convoys taking long-range missiles from Syria to Hizbollah in Lebanon.  Although Hizbollah's leader Nasrallah has warned of dire retaliation for these attacks, no response has been forthcoming.  It is thought that Hizbollah is fully engaged in Syria and does not want to widen any current conflict with Israel, one that it cannot win. So Israel is active when necessary in Syria and is establishing working relationship with the forces of the democratic opposition.  Should these forces eventually prevail this would augur well for future Israeli-Syrian relations.


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