Shalom l’Galil: Israel in Syria

Two weeks ago Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, warned that, 

The situation in Syria has become exceptionally dangerous and unstable. Although the probability of a conventional war against the Syrian army is low, the terrorist organizations fighting Assad may yet set their sights on us. The Syrian army’s tremendous strategic resources [poison gas] may well fall into terrorist hands” 

And today the news from the Golan is that al-Quaeda affiliates have captured a strategic town in the eastern Golan providing easy access to Israel, Jordan and Lebanon.

The war in Syria long since destroyed central authority leaving the remnants of statehood distributed among warring ethno-religious factions. No central authority, no national military: just anarchy, with those warring factions possibly already possessing modern weapons recently delivered by Russia from the state armory, including an advanced and indigenous developed array of what has be described as the world’s largest supply of poison gas:

Military analysts believe Syria may have one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world. Specifically, the supply could include sarIn, mustard and VX gases.”

Iran represents a threat in slow motion: Syria a disaster on steroids. And in the meantime the US and the EU stand by wringing their hands, helpless. With Obama’s recent visit and the apparent rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, were there a sovereign state where once there was Syria Assad would be feeling the noose around his neck. Instead the new defense net of Israel, Turkey and Jordan find themselves under the “leadership” of the uncertain giant, Obama and the United States. Such a military alignment three years ago would have represented a diplomatic breakthrough. Post Arab Spring, and America’s dismal performance in asserting power and controlling events on the ground, I am not so certain. Certainly Israel does not need an “assertively pacific President Obama” dictating Israel strategic interests.

Two weeks ago I wrote in another paper that the current standoff between Russia and the US offers risk and opportunity for Israel. Al-Qaida irregulars are reportedly entrenched on the Golan and, with the defeat of Syrian forces along the border with Iraq, are described to control a “volatile 1,000-km chain from Baghdad to Damascus.” If Egyptian forces on the border of Sinai represented causus belli in 1967, is al-Quaida on the Golan less so?

For Israel, the implications of an attack on Iran is problematic due to blow-back resulting from the likely global economic fallout of yet another disruption to oil, as occurred following Bush invading Iraq. But al-Qaida terrorists on the Golan? That is a question of immediate threat. And al-Quaida is not Iran but a hands-on enemy of Madrid and New York and London. They have western blood on their hands. Syria in chaos represents a long-term threat to regional stability. Frightening to the region and the West as an Israeli preemptive act of self-defense, from where things stand now the outcome cannot be worse than what already exists as promise for the future.

Clearly the UN is incapable of serving as peace-keeper as recent, and multiple previous events demonstrate. Nearly two decades of Israeli occupation of the Sinai, and four decades on the Golan demonstrate her peace-keeping abilities.

Israel’s area of control might extended to the outskirts of Damascus and  along the border of Lebanon to the sea. Hezbollah and Hamas lie outside this discussion, but clearly both would face a radically different future without their Iranian patron.

And what of Iran? The Islamic Republican Guards already trained and armed Syrian insurgents as they had Iraqis set to pounce following Bush invading that country. Will the ayatollahs just stand aside and observe Israel spoil their dreams of Hezbollah in Syria?

For years Israel has posed a threat to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. The cost of direct intervention against Israel in Syria is an open invitation for Israel to carry through that threat as an act of immediate self-defense, no longer mere pre-emptive action. Is Iran really willing to risk an attack on the homeland to protect its interests in Syria?

In 1967 Israel’s Jewish population was just over two million with no natural resources, limited land mass and a military poorly equipped by today’s standards. Her decisive victory established her as the pre-eminent military force in the region. Territorially she was far larger, enemy borders far distant from her population centers.

Today Israel is an increasingly energy independent with the discovery of offshore natural gas reserves. Were Israel to act to clear the Golan, push al-Quaida deep into the Syrian hinterland then not only would the state be distanced from potential terror threat, but her natural gas facilities would also fall under that defense umbrella. And while I don’t want to get to enthusiastic regarding the near and distant future of the state of the Jews, with Arab oil growing less important in a world in which the United States may today hold the world’s largest reserves, and other countries similarly discovering oil in shale; with the Middle East running out of water in a period of global warming and Israel the world’s leader in desalination technology; with Israel the only regional power capable of containing Shiite Iran as threat to Sunni Arabia…

Of course responses to my article were generally negative, the idea that Israel, surrounded on all borders by Islamists, kept in check by Obama could even consider such action as crossing the Syrian border with the intention of occupying tracts of that failed state. Today it appears that that which I considered obvious is, in fact, an operational possibility, if not likelihood. In today’s news, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, northern command went on record:

One of the defensive measures that we of course cannot rule out is creating a defensive buffer zone on the other side of the border, together with interlocutors who will have an interest in cooperating with us against other elements who threaten them too,”

War is not to be taken lightly, and sending Tzahal into Syria has its risks, and its costs in lives of our troops, non-combatants and enemy forces. But under the present state of chaos and threat surrounding Israel it is difficult not to recall the sense of quiet and security while Israel held the Sinai; the security of not having Syrian soldiers atop the Golan firing into the Valley. Sometimes a limited war is necessary to provide a strategic buffer greater than a security fence can provide.

About the Author
David made aliya in 1960 and has been active in Jewish issues since. He was a regional director for JNF in New York, created JUDAC, Jews United to Defend the Auschwitz Cemetery during that controversy; at the request of Jonathan Pollard created and led Justice for the Pollards in 1989.