A New York Times report on Wednesday stated that Israel is contemplating
directly intervening in Syria’s civil war with the possible creation of a buffer
zone inside Syria or by supporting a proxy force such as the Druse. The report
noted that Israeli security forces are quietly working with Syrian villagers,
supplying humanitarian aid and gaining intelligence information.
Israeli experts and ex-government officials told The Jerusalem Post that any
direct intervention in Syria’s civil war by Israel is both unlikely and unwise.
Itamar Rabinovich, the vice chairman of the Institute for National Security
Studies, a former ambassador to the US and Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria
from 1992 to 1995, is one of the experts quoted in the Times report. Rabinovich
clarified to the Post that he does not see Israel getting involved before Syrian
President Bashar Assad falls, but would not rule it out in case he
“Assad currently has the wind at his back,” said Rabinovich
emphasizing that the situation is not an Israeli concern, but an international
one, and that “we must not leap to the head of the line.”
what the future could hold in Syria, Rabinovich opines the longer the civil war
lingers, the more danger it creates because the country could fall into the
hands of jihadists and destabilize neighbors such as Jordan. He urged US
President Barack Obama to intervene, but not with troops on the ground – only by
arming and aiding certain rebel elements.
A failure to act demonstrates
weakness, he said.
Dore Gold, the former Israeli ambassador to the UN and
the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, told the Post he does
not see Israel getting involved either by proxy or by creating a buffer zone.
“It is not Israel’s approach to use proxies,” he said.
In regard to the
buffer zone idea, he said that Israel has had bad experience with buffer zones,
noting that Israeli military leaders also dislike the idea.
that the French and British drew the modern map of the Middle East 97 years ago
and it is not in Israel’s interest to get involved in these kinds of activities
today as it will only make peace harder to achieve in the long run.
main issue, said Gold, is how Tehran has increased its profile in this conflict,
putting Iranian boots on the ground to fight Sunni Arabs in Syria and sending in
Shi’ite militias from Lebanon and Iraq to assist.
“The Iranians made a
decision that they cannot lose Syria at all costs,” said Gold. Thus, “it is not
Israel” that seeks to intervene in Syria, but Iran.
Mehdi Taaib, a
leading Iranian official, called Syria “the 35th district of Iran,” which Gold
said shows Iran’s expansionist doctrine as opposed to Israel’s approach which
remains defensive. Further supporting this claim is that Major-General Qasem
Soleimani, the Revolutionary Guards commander of Iran’s elite special operations
force, which operates overseas, is in charge of Iran’s forces fighting in
Gold added that the senior officer who is running the operation
receives orders directly from Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.
Inbar, the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, agreed with
Gold that Israel is better served by not involving itself in Syria’s war.
is a mess that nobody can fix at the moment. While trying to make
contacts with potentially ascending powers is tempting, caution is needed in the
treacherous region we live in,” he said.
“Prudence should be Israel’s
Eyal Zisser – an expert on Syria at Tel Aviv University’s
Moshe Dayan Center – said Israel’s experience in Lebanon serves as a warning
against intervention, because at first “we were welcomed and then everybody
joined forces against us.”
“If the regime falls then they will look for
other targets and we shouldn’t give them this opportunity,” he
However, Zisser does see an opportunity for Israel to take limited
action or targeted strikes if there is a lack of stability and chaos, which lead
to groups attacking Israel. “On a tactical level an army commander could say
there is an important hill on the other side of the border,” he said, warning
that the worry is once you get in, it will be difficult to get
Daniel Pipes, the president of the Middle East Forum, says he is
neither pro-Assad nor pro-rebels necessarily.
“I am in favor of helping
whichever side is losing, whichever that might be, because they are enemies,” he
Rabinovich disagreed with Pipes and cautioned against such
statements. “It is not in our interest to perpetuate the civil war and it is
better that this not be said publicly in Israel,” he said. Rabinovich said that
when he met opposition leaders in Europe, they complained about pro-Assad
statements from Israeli officials.