The relationships between Israel, Syria and Lebanon has always been complicated. Both the former have occupied the latter at different times over the last several decades. Both have supported factions within the small, conflicted nation. Both have worked hard to keep Lebanon’s woes from spilling into their own backyard.
Assad has been severely weakened by the two-year civil war raging in Syria. But in the last few days, several interesting developments have taken place between Syria and these two contentious neighbors.
Over the weekend, Hezbollah stepped into the conflict in a way which it had not done previously. While there has been fighting near the borders, and rogue troops entering to fight on their own accord, it is being reported that Hezbollah has dispatched 1000 troops into Syria to combat the rebels. Several Hezbollah fighters have apparently been killed during the fighting.
Hezbollah and Assad are naturally allies in several ways. Religiously, both are Shiite (Assad and his regime are Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam) and the rebels are mostly Sunni. Perhaps more importantly, they are allies politically. Both are allied with Iran, the primary benefactor for both.
On Syria’s border with Israel, an even more surprising turn-of-events is transpiring.
According to UNHCR, 857,712 Syrians are registered as refugees or are awaiting their registration. This is out of Syria’s population of just over 20 million people, meaning that just under one-in-five Syrians has fled the warn-torn country. These hundreds of thousands of refugees are in every country bordering Syria save for Israel, and even several nations which do not share a border with Syria. There are nearly 20,000 Syrian refugees in Egypt alone.
As of this weekend, Israel will now be on the list of nations hosting Syrian refugees. On Saturday, seven wounded Syrians were brought into Israel by the IDF for medical treatment. With that humanitarian action, Israel is now preparing itself for a deluge of Syrians to follow.
Rather than swinging the doors wide, Israel is making plans to build a field hospital along the border. It will presumably be used to treat those wounded in Syria, meaning that Israel is opening itself to the idea of accepting Syrian refugees on a larger scale.
Syria under Assad does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state. But it is looking increasingly likely that Assad will fall. It is unclear what the relationship will be between Israel and the rebels should they succeed in replacing Assad. Will this help open relations between Israel and a future Syrian leadership? Is Israel creating a situation for its northern border similar to that of its southern border? What will Israel do should this civil war rage for another two more? How many Syrians will Israel allow to cross their border? How long will they allow these newly displaced people to remain in the Jewish State? When the injured are once again well, will they be sent back to Assad? Will they head to jail? To South Tel Aviv?
There are many questions to be asked and conversations to be had on the topic. I am sure that John Kerry will be more than happy to serve as facilitator when that day should arrive.
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