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July 5, 2018 11:21 am

How the Syrian War Could Still Threaten Israel

avatar by Yoav Limor /


Internally displaced people from Deraa province arrive in Quneitra, Syria, near the border with Israel’s Golan Heights, June 29, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Alaa Al-Faqir / File. – The headlines trickling down from Israel’s ‎northern sector near Syrian are far more dramatic than the ‎situation on the ground: The Syrian army has yet to ‎launch a full-scale offensive on rebel forces along ‎the border; the influx of Syrian refugees has yet to turn ‎into an uncontrollable flood; and the reinforcement ‎of IDF troops on the Israel-Syria border is still ‎relatively minor.‎

But make no mistake. The situation on the northern border ‎is highly volatile, and could quickly go south. ‎Recent bombardments indicate that Syrian President ‎Bashar Assad plans to retake control of the Daraa area ‎on the Jordanian border, and then turn his attention to ‎the rebel pockets on the Syrian Golan Heights, a ‎stone’s throw away from the border with Israel.‎

It is likely, however, that he will not launch a ‎major offensive before the end of the World Cup, or ‎at least not before Russia is eliminated from the ‎tournament. In any event, the Helsinki summit ‎between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, which will focus on Syria, ‎has been set for July 16.‎

In the meantime, Assad is trying to pressure the ‎rebels, and perhaps drive them to flee or surrender. ‎The rebels, for their part, are trying to improve ‎their positions, and the changes in their deployment ‎can be clearly seen along the border with Israel — ‎likely driven by the assumption that Syria will be ‎wary of acting too close to the frontier so as not ‎to risk a confrontation with Israel. ‎

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It is doubtful that this possibility will deter ‎Syria, if nothing else because of the clear message ‎Israel has sent it: that it will enforce the 1974 cease-‎fire agreement. In other words, Israel has made it clear that the fighting is an ‎internal Syrian issue and Israel will not fight for ‎any rebel or refugee.‎

To avoid appearing completely passive, Israel ‎deployed armored and artillery forces along its ‎border with Syria on Sunday, with aim of deterring the ‎Syrian army from violating the 1974 agreement, by ordering the mass deployment of troops on the Golan Heights. But this ‎move also sought to warn Iran against entertaining ‎the idea of exploiting the Syrian army’s ‎reoccupation of the territory to plant its militias ‎near the Israeli border.‎

Recent conversations between Israeli Defense Minister ‎Avigdor Lieberman and his Russian counterpart Sergei ‎Shoigu, and the meeting held by IDF Chief of Staff ‎Lt. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot with US Chairman of the ‎Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford in ‎Washington sought to coordinate this issue and ‎clarify Israel’s position — yes to the return of the ‎Syrian army to the Golan Heights; no to any Iranian ‎presence in the area, even if it means a military ‎confrontation.‎

Israeli defense officials believe that the Syrian ‎army’s takeover of the area will be fast, albeit not ‎necessarily easy. Therefore, it is unlikely that ‎the IDF would be able to remain on the fence, ‎figuratively and literally, should intense fighting ‎erupt on the Golan Heights, certainly if rebel ‎groups take desperate measures to provoke the IDF ‎into action, and against the backdrop of the masses ‎of refugees who may seek sanctuary in Israel.‎

The Israeli leadership has already made it clear ‎that it will supply Syrian refugees with ‎humanitarian aid, but will not grant them entry into ‎its territory. But as the fighting intensifies and ‎with it the flood of horrific images from Syria, the ‎call to do something more will surely grow louder. ‎

It is in Israel’s interest to get through the next ‎few weeks without military entanglement in the ‎north. Once the dust settles, Israel will once again ‎be dealing with one person in charge. ‎

Assad may emerge from the fighting weaker but, he ‎still enjoys Russia and Iran’s backing. The latter ‎is sure to look for every way possible to undermine ‎the stability that has prevailed along the border ‎for four decades. Israel is bracing for this ‎possibility, knowing that the volatility in the area ‎will peak in the near future.‎

Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.

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