Syria-Israel border 370.
(photo credit: YAAKOV KATZ)
A few weeks ago, Syrian civilians broke into a UN peacekeeping post along the
border with Israel.
The civilians came to steal supplies, but in Israel,
the event – which would have been unheard of a year ago – was noted with extreme
interest as another sign that President Bashar Assad was losing control over his
An even further sign is the increase in the number of land mines
being dug up by Syrian civilians near the border and thrown into Israel. Since
the beginning of the year, six mines have been thrown into the country, compared
to two in 2011 and zero the year before.
All of this adds up to a dire
assessment within the IDF Northern Command that Syria is on its way to becoming
something of a “hybrid” state where Assad will continue to control some parts –
particularly main metropolitan areas like Damascus and Aleppo – but will lose
control over other parts like Hauran, an area in the southwest along the border
For this reason, the IDF refrains from issuing
straightforward predictions of when Assad will or might fall. Predictions like
Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s, back in January, that Assad would fall “within
weeks,” are dismissed as nonsense.
Instead, the IDF is focused on
preparing for scenarios it believes could evolve over the coming months, with an
eye on the increase in the presence of global jihad elements in Syria and their
potential involvement in attacks against Israel.
The change for the IDF
One place where that change is apparent is along a
section of the border in the central Golan Heights where for years the IDF had
invested in creating obstacles to prevent Syrian tanks from crossing into the
Today, the military is creating obstacles aimed at preventing
people from infiltrating the border, as part of an understanding that the new
threat is one of guerrillas and terrorism.
This is a lesson from what has
happened along one of the country’s other active fronts today – the Sinai, which
also used to be under the control of a regime (Hosni Mubarak) but today is a
lawless territory where terrorists appear to run free.
The downing of a
Turkish fighter jet last week is an example of how complicated the situation is
today in Syria.
On the one hand, the air defense systems are on high
alert and at a relatively high professional level – one of the reasons the West
is wary of military intervention. On the other hand, the military is facing
massive defections, lack of intelligence and command-and-control problems in its
battle against rebel forces.
According to Israeli estimates, around
12,000 soldiers and officers have already defected. While the number is
significant, it is not enough to have a major impact on a military of nearly
The military is also overworked. Officers in the Syrian army,
for example, used to work 9-to-5 jobs with a two-hour break in the middle of the
day. Nowadays, they are in operations around the clock, and many have not been
home for several months.
The fighting between rebels and the military is
not yet directly along the border with Israel, but it is not far, reaching
places like Deraa – a mere 11 km. from Israel.
For the time being, the
IDF does not believe that Assad’s forces will do something along the border to
attack Israel. On the contrary – all indications are that Assad wants to keep
the border quiet out of fear that a distraction will prevent him from quelling
This was evident on Nakba Day in May, when Syrian military
forces were seen stopping protesters from approaching the border. If Assad
wanted to get Israel involved, he would have let them through. Another example
occurred a few weeks ago, when he replaced a number of commanders along the
border. Discipline was apparently down in some of the units, and new officers
were brought in to tighten things up.