It’s commonly and falsely reported in the world media that Israel is maintaining a neutral stance in the Syrian conflict. After all, when your enemy is self-destructing, the best thing to do is sit back, watch, and do nothing. But Israel isn’t satisfied with that. It is intervening regularly and intensively against the government of Bashar al-Assad and his Hezbollah and Iranian allies. It has assassinated Syrian, Hezbollah, and Iranian IRG commanders on Syrian territory. It has repeatedly bombed weapons convoys ferrying Russian and Iranian missiles through Syria to Lebanon for use by Hezbollah. It has built a camp on its disputed border with Syria to house the family of Syrian rebels. It has allied itself with the Al Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Islamist terror group, which is fighting Hezbollah in the Syrian Golan.
Until now, Israel has maintained the fiction of neutrality and the world media has dutifully followed suit, validating this falsehood. But for the first time, the IDF has permitted a TV reporter to embed with a commando unit (if the video doesn’t play, follow this link to the original article which contains the video) which crossed into the Syrian Golan. Ironically, the headline of his story was that Israeli forces are entering Syria “in secret” to gather intelligence. Apparently, he was unaware of the irony of claiming in a newspaper that the story you’re reporting is “secret.” Though the purpose of the incursion wasn’t clear, usually they plant listening and video surveillance devices which give it a clear picture of what’s going on in the field. The video at the beginning of the post is an interview I conducted with PressTV about yesterday’s IDF spy mission into Syria.
There have been reports which I’ve documented here that such units have been violating Syrian sovereignty for years. Not to mention the assassinations of senior Hezbollah, IRG (Iranian), and Syrian commanders on Syrian soil. And the numerous air attacks on weapons convoys traversing Syria on their way to Lebanon. But this is the first time the IDF was brazen enough to boast about it.
There are several reasons that may’ve changed the geopolitical considerations: yesterday, Hezbollah sent Lebanese civilians to protest along the border. They crossed the armistice line to protest Israel’s installation of surveillance cameras at the site. But they did not penetrate to the Israeli fence. The IDF used tear gas and other weapons to suppress the protesters and send them back into Lebanon. Thus, the army’s public statement that it violates Syrian territory could be meant as a counter-poke in the eye to Hezbollah, which is one of Pres. Assad’s most powerful backers and which regularly probes the Syrian border for Israeli security weaknesses.
Israel is known to violate Lebanese sovereignty regularly as well. It sends the same sort of commando units into Hezbollah enclaves in the south to plant listening devices. They are intended to offer Israel intelligence information on the composition and placement of Hezbollah fighting units. It’s also possible they could pick up communications among commanders Israel might seek to assassinate.
Another reason to publicize this secret mission is to promote this new army unit, the Intelligence Targeting Unit, which was tasked with taking the fight to the enemy. It employs spying and surveillance techniques in the fight against what Israel labels “terror” groups (i.e. Hezbollah). The unit’s existence was only made known after two of its members died in a helicopter crash on their way to spy on Syrian territory. Thus, highlighting a successful operation might be a way to mitigate this negative press. Also, the IDF is always conscious of promoting its war-fighting capabilities in order to justify ever larger slices of the national budget. This could be another such PR venture.
A further reason the IDF would seek to make its violations of the border more public: ISIS units are waging a fierce battle in areas near the Golan armistice line. Israel clearly has an intense interest in knowing the balance of forces in the region and which militant groups control which territory. This also coincides with Israel’s alliance with al-Nusra, to which it provides intelligence and logistical support in its own fight for dominance in the region.
Incidentally, you will find none of this analysis in the reporter’s own story about his experience in Syria. He apparently was so excited by the privilege he was offered he never bothered to wonder why he was given it.
At any rate, it’s clear that Israel wants a weak and divided Syria. It wants as much blood and as many dead as possible. In fact, at the close of the video, an IDF commando says to the reporter explicitly that the “silver lining” in the Syrian bloodbath is that it means “quiet” for Israel.
Israel wants Assad either toppled outright, or ruling a rump country consisting of an Alawite enclave. It wants the Syrian Golan controlled either by friendly Druze forces or militants it can easily co-opt in order to maintain the peace on Israel’s northern border. What it does not want is a united Syria because that would exert pressure on it to negotiate an end to the conflict and a return of Israeli-occupied Golan. Such an eventuality is anathema to a far-right government pledged not to cede a single millimeter of “Israeli” land.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.