AN ARMORED VEHICLE rides during an army drill after the visit of former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman to the Israeli side of the Golan Heights in August..
(photo credit: AMIR COHEN/REUTERS)
It is obvious to even the casual observer that Israel faces a military threat from Hezbollah in the Golan Heights. The greater question is, where is all this leading and what are the ultimate goals of Israeli’s adversaries in that region?
Since the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has controlled the majority of the Golan with Syria in possession of the eastern third. It has not been uncommon, or infrequent, for Israel to be harassed militarily from this area. However, with the advent of the Syrian civil war, the threat of all-out war in Syria between Israel, Hezbollah – and perhaps the greatest threat, Iran, has gone up exponentially.
At first blush, it would appear that Hezbollah threats from the Golan are a “David and Goliath” situation, with Hezbollah simply trying to spread out the superior IDF forces as it deals with other hot spots.
To the observant eye, however, there is more at stake here, for the dangers are real and imminent.
Of note is the increased frequency of attacks on IDF patrols in the area. This would not necessarily raise any red flags, except that there are other factors at play. For example, Hezbollah’s aggressive updating of their missile factories inside Lebanon while making the actual missiles produced there more accurate and with greater range. This would make the Golan an ideal base for launching these missiles into the heart of Israel.
If this is the case, Hezbollah is betting on one thing: Israel will not launch a large-scale pre-emptive attack and risk a head-to-head confrontation with Iran and its surrogates, as well as a hefty Hezbollah force that some estimate may be as high as 10,000 fighters.
But this may be extremely naïve, to say the least.
Israel has never shied away from conflict when there is an existential threat. Israeli military planners know, too, that Hezbollah has increased its military acumen from the time spent engaged in conflict in Syria; they have become more skilled, mobile, with a mature and aware leadership.
For Israel, a robust terrorist force on its borders with sophisticated missiles supported by its archenemy, Iran, would prove to be an unacceptable situation – and military action would be inevitable. It is in the realm of speculation to say how far this military action would go, and what, exactly, would be Iran’s reaction.
Certainly, Israel would use its air force as a first strike, but Assad’s only loyal ally, Russia, has moved S300 surface to air missiles into the area making things much riskier. As the risk factor goes up, so does the degree of force that will be needed to overcome the obstacles.
This is how large-scale wars get ignited.
If Israel uses troops on the ground, Iran would certainly engage its Quds fighters, the international arm of their Revolutionary Guards. Thus, Israel would no longer be fighting a proxy war, but a war directly with Iran itself.
The main goal of recent Israeli air attacks inside Syria is to retard the progress of Iran and Hezbollah from creating a permanent base inside Syria from which to attack Israel at will. But a “hunt and peck” military plan that only slows the progress will soon wear thin, and the resourceful Hezbollah, emboldened by their Iranian supporters, will find new ways to accomplish their plan.
The hope that the Assad regime will fall with the consequence that Hezbollah, Iran and Russia will withdraw, is now a pipe dream.
If indeed Hezbollah launches another missile attack, this time with more accurate weapons landing deeper and deeper inside Israeli territory, Israel will be forced to make a major decision as to what kind of response it will make.
The showdown between Iran and Israel has been up to this time a war of words. But if present circumstances continue, a major conflagration could be right around the corner.
Hopefully, there is a way forward that can defuse it.
The writer is an independent journalist and author based in Greenville, South Carolina. He writes frequently on international and American political affairs.
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