Shalom l'Galil: Israel in Syria, take 3

I first addressed the danger Israel faces on her Golan front on March 26, 2013 in anticipation of events unfolding on Israel’s Golan front. In December, 2014, clear indications that the Obama Administration still did not grasp either the situation of players in involved in the Syrian civil war, 

"The Syrian rebel militia Al Yarmouk Shuhada Brigades, backed and trained for two years by US officers, mostly CIA experts, in Jordan, and supported by the Israeli army, has abruptly dumped these sponsors and joined up with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria."   

I decided to repost an update of my earlier article, Shalom l’Galil because Israel is facing an increasing threat of encirclement while the West, the US and EU dream of a world of peace even as confronting the reality of chaos. Unable to see beyond wish and preconception Obama decided to support the “opposition” to Assad by training “five-thousand” Syrian rebels. Who could guess that demanding they use their training and weapons on the enemy to the north rather than the immediate threat posed by Assad to their own families would give them second thoughts about American “assistance.” Who in the White House could even suspect that billions of dollars of training and weapons would result in the Al Yarmouk Shuhada Brigades switch sides and join Obama’s intended target of his investment?  Then, what should have been a clear warning to Obama, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah parroting his Iranian masters, warned Israel not to interfere with the occupation by Iran and Hezbollah of their fast emerging “facts on the ground,” a new 150 km front extending from the “Qalamoun Mountains of Syria up to Mt. Hermon and includes the Syrian Golan.” This “mix of Lebanese and Iranian blood on Syrian soil in Quneitra represents the unity of our battle and fate.” Or, to make it absolutely clear, Israel will either accept Iran’s Hezbollah on two fronts, or face Hezbollah backed by Iran in immediate war. 

In fact, as in Gaza, Israel confronts two options: to tolerate wars of attrition north and south; or to return to its previous and highly successful military doctrine from 1948 to 1967 of preemption: take the war to the enemy swiftly, forcefully and unexpectedly. Which is the path suggested in my 2013, Shalom l’Galil: Israel in Syria. 

Two weeks ago (early March, 2013) Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, warned that,  

“The situation in Syria has become exceptionally dangerous and unstable. Although the probability of a conventional war against the Syrian army is low, the terrorist organizations fighting Assad may yet set their sights on us. The Syrian army’s tremendous strategic resources may well fall into terrorist hands” 

And today the news from the Golan is that al-Quaeda affiliates have captured a strategic town in the eastern Golan providing easy access to IsraelJordan and Lebanon.

2015: Iran represents a threat in slow motion, Syria a disaster on steroids. While the US and the EU stand by wringing their hands clueless and helpless Israel, Egypt Saudia and the Gulf emirates are forced to await Obama and his “assurances” and let the West’s “negotiations” with Iran run their obvious course, the only certainty that Iran will emerge with the capability to go “nuclear” at a time of its choosing. A replay of US-backed Chamberlain at Berchtesgaden. Post Arab Spring and the evidence of diminished influence and inability to control events on the ground, can Israel afford to placate America’s “assertively pacific President Obama” dictating Israel’s strategic interests? 

Two weeks ago (early March, 2013) Al-Qaeda irregulars were reportedly entrenched on the Golan and, with the defeat of Syrian forces along the border with Iraq, were already described as controlling a “volatile 1,000-km chain from Baghdad to Damascus.” If Egyptian forces on the border of Sinai represented causus belli in 1967, is al-Quaida on the Golan less so? And ISIL (February, 2015) already claiming sleeper cells in Jordan and the West Bank? 

For Israel, the implications of an attack on Iran is problematic mostly due to blow-back resulting from the likely global economic fallout of yet another disruption to oil, as occurred following Bush invading Iraq. But Hezbollah/Iran based on the Golan? That is a question of immediate threat. The “Arab Spring” and Syria in chaos represent a long-term threats to regional stability. Frightening to the US/EU as an Israeli preemptive act of self-defense, from where things stand now the outcome cannot be worse than what already exists as promise for the future. 

Clearly the UN is incapable of serving as peace-keeper as recent, and multiple previous events demonstrate. Nearly two decades of Israeli occupation of the Sinai, and four decades on the Golan demonstrate Israel’s peace-keeping abilities. And the UN’s hasty abandonment of the Sinai-Israel frontier to Nasser’s order they leave (he was described “amazed” they left and made a real war inevitable) Israel nor any threatened nation can depend on outside military force as buffer. 

What is proposed is an IDF incursion in force across the Golan to dislodge the terrorist threat. In 1967 Israel chose to end the conflict at the Golan Heights. But there was also the option to set the boundary on the outskirts of Damascus. After years of Iranian influence in Damascus, I suggest the time has come to reinstate the outskirts of Damascus the new de-facto boundary between whatever may emerge from the civil war as a “State of Syria.” Israel should also push north and create a buffer around Lebanon, thereby achieving two strategic goals: cutting Hezbollah off from its patron; and protecting Israel’s off-shore natural gas platforms from threat by Hezbollah. And as for Hezbollah as an operational force its freedom of maneuver would be sharply limited and, under pressure from Israel and the legitimate government in Lebanon would eventually die or be forced to relocate, exiled, as was the PLO until 1995 and Israel’s agreement. 

Admittedly this is all speculative, arm-chair quarterbacking without access to real-time intelligence and Israeli military planning and capabilities. Would Hamas join in the war; can Israel sustain a two or, should Iran join in, a three front war? Is Israel capable of protecting the homeland against the many rockets possessed by Iran’s proxies Hamas and Hezbollah? And if not, how much can the Israeli homeland withstand? Clearly the faster Israel can complete the primary operation in Syria, the sooner it can turn attention south, to pacify Lebanon and finally, put close to Hamas in Gaza.

And Iran? Would the ayatollahs sit out the threat to years of expansion across the Gulf, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza? And if Iran joins the war, how would that influence its outcome, the stability of the region? 

Regarding Iran, dealing with the nuclear threat was and continues a primary strategic interest for Israel. Clearly the United States is unwilling to use its abundance of power to force the end to that state’s regional ambitions backed by a nuclear arsenal. Ending the threat and rolling back the breakout threshold has been proven achievable only by threat or use of military force. Of course Iran is excellent at diplomacy as proven over the past decade and half dealing with the United States. If, beyond Bush-like threats and a return to its Iraq-era tactics of behind the scenes support of insurgents, Iran might well emerge unscathed, aside from losing the Levant, accept Obama’s surrender regarding it’s nuclear program, and live to play hegemon another day. It is also in Israel’s interest to delay as long as possible attacking Iran since that country represents a threat also to the Sunni Arab states. It is this threat that has opened up close, if quiet alliance between Israel’s Arabian Peninsula state neighbors and Israel. And Egypt under al Sisi has proven more openly aligned with Israel than even Hosni Mubarak, ousted from office by Obama almost exactly three years ago. 

All in all the demise of Hezbollah and Hamas; open military cooperation between Israel and the Arab states will make survival a matter of time for non-state regional movements as al Nusra, al Quaeda and the upstart ISIL or self-styled “Islamic State.” An Israeli victory may just possibly turn back the clock to a semblance of stability that preceded the ill-conceived 2002 invasion of Iraq. And Obama will finally be able to retreat across the ocean into America’s isolationist cocoon.