The Israeli defense establishment remains skeptical about the chances of the partial cease-fire in Syria holding up.
“We’re not counting on it,” one defense source told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, when asked how the truce across the northern border was viewed in Israel.
Meanwhile, sources in the IDF’s Northern Command took a cautious, wait-and-see approach, saying it was too soon to make concrete observations.
Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told the Post that the cease-fire was extremely fragile due to the lack of trust between the sides.
“What is holding it together is the understanding that Russia is prepared to invest any effort to fight the rebels, and that the rebels have no strong backing like this. Hence, they agreed to the cease-fire,” Amidror, now a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, said.
“On the other side, there is the understanding by Assad that if he loses Russian support, he loses everything. It is only the big Russian support of Assad, Iran and Hezbollah working together that saved his regime from collapse,” he added.
“As a result,” he continued, “everything depends on the way the rebels perceive Russia, and whether someone gives them support that will weaken the Russian threat. Assad has an interest in safeguarding the status quo, and the rebels have an interest in changing it. The Russians are the only obstacle in the face of the rebels.”
Even before the truce (or “cessation of hostilities,” as announced last week by the US and Russia) was signed, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon expressed public skepticism about its durability, pointing out the holes in the arrangement.
“It is hard for me to see, in this reality, a stable cease-fire in which all elements agree to hold their fire,” Ya’alon said at the naval base in Haifa while standing on board the USS Carney, an American destroyer taking part in the Juniper Cobra 2016 joint ballistic missile defense drill.
“ISIS is not part of this process, Jabhat al-Nusra is not part of the process,” he said, referring to Islamic State and a rebel group aligned with al-Qaida. “And the Russians say: ‘So long as these are active, we will attack them.’ If one or another element within the opposition agrees on the local level to a cease-fire, that’s one thing. I do not see a general cease-fire on the horizon.”
Military Intelligence and the Northern Command have no intention of scaling down their broad – and daunting – intelligence-gathering activities to keep up with every armed group in southern Syria. That includes monitoring Jabhat al-Nusra, which is not a party to the truce, and its mortal foe on the Syrian Golan, the ISIS-affiliated Shuhada al-Yarmuk Battalions, located just 10 to 15 kilometers from the Israeli border.
The IDF must also continue to watch the activities of Iran’s Republican Guard Corps and Hezbollah in southern Syria. These radical Shi’ite elements could become emboldened if the Assad regime’s future becomes more stable and secure, and such confidence could translate into attacks on Israel.