Earlier in my reporting on the Syrian civil war, I sketched out what I thought was Israel’s strategy in containing or managing the conflict there. In the past, Israel had learned to live with a Syria governed by a strongman-authoritarian system (the Assad family). It enjoyed the same relationship with Egypt’s Mubarak and Jordan’s Hussein-Abdullah dynasty. It even has excellent, though covert relations with the House of Saud. Israel likes it Arabs (leaders, that is) to be docile, corrupt, and brutal.
With the war and dissolution of central power, Israel now moved to a preferred model of a weak, dysfunctional Syrian state. Either one with warring rebel factions killing each other; or, if Assad could not be felled, a state divided up into ethnic cantons. One of those cantons would be the Golan. Israel, I maintained, intended to carve out a buffer zone much as it did in southern Lebanon after its 1982 invasion. At the time I wrote this, there wasn’t nearly as much evidence to support this plan as there is now. I pointed then to a FoxNews report showing Israeli special forces returning from liaison with what a confidential Israeli source told me was local Syrian Druze rebels.
In past months, evidence to support Israel’s intensive intervention on behalf of the Syrian Islamist rebels has grown exponentially. The latest is a report by Yediot Achronot’s military correspondent, Alex Fishman. He writes today in Israel is up to its neck in Syria:
…Ever since most of the Syrian Army was driven back from the border area and its positions were taken by radical Islamic organization such as Jabhat al-Nusra, there has not been a single incident of a Jihadi group attacking Israel. This seems to indicate that Israel has total control – intelligence and operational – over both sides of the border.
Contrary to Israeli claims (including by Fishman himself) that this doesn’t constitute “taking sides” or intervening in the civil war, of course it does. When you flick a match into an oil drum it doesn’t matter that the match is very small and the drum very big. All it takes is a small spark. Therefore, any significant interference in Syria’s internal affairs is an intervention and taking sides against Assad and for the Islamists. Further, as my last post indicated, Israel has both acted affirmatively on behalf of the al Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra and refused to punish ISIS for mortar fire that struck Israeli-occupied territory. Thus, Fishman’s title: Israel is up to its neck with Islamist rebels.
The Israeli journalist offers further proof of Israeli control of the Syrian battleground by noting in the original Hebrew version of his article (which curiously was omitted in the English translation) that there are five Syrian Druze villages in the northern Golan. Despite the fact that they are strong supporters of the Assad regime, Syrian rebels have not attacked them. In fact, their lands are among the last that have remained untouched in the region of those which do support the government.
They are protected, according to a report in a Lebanese media outlet, by an agreement between the IDF and Druze leaders in Israeli-occupied Golan. A few months before outgoing chief of staff Benny Gantz left his post, he visited with the elders of the Druze community. There he promised them that their relatives in Syria’s Druze villages would not be harmed.
Fishman notes that whether or not the report is true, in practice this is what is happening. He continues:
Such a pledge could only be made by someone in a position to control the [battle]field.
This makes Israel an aggressive, interventionist state. We’ve known this for decades based on Israel’s willingness to pre-emptively attack enemies in war and carve up their territory and place it under control of vassals like the South Lebanon Army. But Syria offers further proof that Israel is a rogue state which refuses to acknowledge its behavior for what it is.
Despite Fishman’s claims that Israel’s intervention is relatively benign, Israel has long passed that point. Though he is “late to the party,” I think this warning worth considering:
The more time that passes, the more the operational arm and the decision-makers in Jerusalem tend to fall in love with the results, increase the stakes and take more risks.
The selection of targets will become less and less strict; relying on the weakness of the enemy will up the ante, and Israel could find itself becoming an integral part of the conflict in Syria.
Yes, Hezbollah may end up with fewer advanced and accurate missiles in Lebanon, but the Golan Heights will become a battle zone.
It already is. But better a late warning than none at all.