Problems in the north and south

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
The strongest country in the Middle East is in a squeeze.
On the southern border, Hamas is using a bunch of excitable kids to send up homemade kites and cheap balloons, with small explosives and burning bottles of gasoline attached. The prevailing wind brings them over Israeli fields, parks, and towns. Summer dryness assures that they’ll burn substantial acreage before being doused by overworked firefighters and volunteers.
Over the northern border, several dozen militias and gangs associated with at least four countries have been battling one another since 2011. Groups coalesce, break apart, fight one another in a chaos that no outsider should claim to understand fully, or to claim which cluster—if any—represents the good guys. None seem to fight according to civilized rules of war. Civilians have been targeted with chemical weapons and other munitions.
Refugees have fled the increased military capacity of the Assad regime, backed up with Russian planes and Iranian mercenaries. The fighters who had opposed Assad have been losing, and predictions range to a quarter million individuals doing what they can to avoid being slaughtered, and moving toward the borders of Jordan or Israel.
Jordan is already overtaxed with more than 700,000 Syrian refugees. Israel has been sending tents, food, clothing, and medical supplies to the border. It has provided treatment of seriously wounded in Israeli hospitals, but it has indicated that it will not accept Syrian refugees in Israel.
Politicians and diplomats are as active as personnel of the IDF. The UN has a mandate to assure a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border, bur its personnel have been inept, and far more concerned for their own security than fulfilling a mission of keeping a zone free of violence. The IDF has sent a considerable number of troops, along with tanks and artillery to the border. Israel has signaled that it will not allow Iranians or its mercenaries to approach the border. It has no objection to Assad’s troops, which put it somewhat out of step with the US, but it has already responded to stray shells that land in Israel.
Israel has attacked Iranian installations several times, with casualties. It talks often with Russian officials, and may have some kind of mutual accommodation.
It’s more than a little dicey.
Will Israel shoot down a Russian plane that strays over the border while dropping bombs on a refugee camp established by Israel on the Syrian side of the border?
Will it stand by when any northern force (Syrian, Iranian, or Russian) begins attacking fighters and civilians who have fled to the northern side of Israel’s border?
And what about those kites and balloons coming over the southern border?
So far the IDF has responded to those Gazans in a threatening way, usually careful not to hurt anyone. It has recently closed the border to any shipment of non-essential consumer goods. We don’t know exactly what that means, but there are early signs of unhappiness among the merchants of Gaza.
Unfriendly Muslims of several ethnicities in the north and south have access to considerable munitions that can send Israelis throughout the country to the shelters, and do considerable damage to housing and infrastructure.
Israel can respond by destroying a great deal more of Gazans, Syrians, Lebanese, and whoever else is fighting in those places against Israel. But the prime concern is to provide security to Israelis and this country’s housing, power supply, air and sea ports, and everything else worth protecting.
As far as we know, and can guess from what is being reported, the following lines appear to summarize Israeli policy with respect to the various challenges.
The greater concern is the potential for serious conflict in the north, with efforts to get along with the Russians and to pressure all concerned to remove Iran and its allies from Syria, or at least to keep them away from the Israeli border.
Israel will continue to attack Iranian and Hezbollah positions in Syria, including munitions meant for transfer to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
We can only guess about Israel’s intelligence assets in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran, both technological and human. They have provided considerable information, but no doubt some things are missed.
People living near Gaza are increasing their pressure, demanding relief from daily fires, smoke, and the chronic threat to their property and lives. As long as the destruction is contained to fields and parkland, IDF’s response is likely to be modest, and meant to avoid provoking Hamas to a serious escalation.
Israel has learned not be heroic or to obsess about solving problems that have no solution. Now there’s yet another occasion to cope, or to operate with one’s finger tips, and to keep one’s fists in pocket.
The dry summer, and the example of Gaza have combined to provide opportunities for other firebugs, most likely Palestinians or Israeli Arabs, doing what they can for their national cause. Firefighters have been busy, with police closing roads when threatened by flames. Some of this has occurred near Jerusalem, and we've smelled our share of the smoke.
It’s far from ideal, but that's also true of life in general. Some of us complain. Most of us who've been through this or similar tensions several times may be immune to intense feelings. Politicians, the IDF and other security personnel aren't perfect, but they are competent. They’re better informed than retired academics. They are also equipped, or cursed, by the authority and responsibility to make decisions that will affect us all.