The new battle for the Golan

Israel’s supreme interest is to expand the period of time between conflicts and not to narrow it; there is no need to display on every occasion our ability to reap destruction.

IDF soldiers near border with Lebanon. (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers near border with Lebanon.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s never a good time for war, and that includes right now. That’s why Israel’s main task at the moment is to calm the tension and restore quiet to the northern border.
The problem is that there are four major players on the northern front – Syria, Iran, Hezbollah and Israel – and each has its own interests.
Therefore, even if Israel’s desire, as was expressed in a cabinet decision, is to put an end to the current cycle of violence, there are no guarantees that this will happen.
The recent flare-up on the northern border, which is usually quiet, can be seen in the context of a long history of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, or as an exceptional outburst that breaks the pattern.
There has been a ceasefire with Hezbollah for more than eight years. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, on which no one pinned any great hopes, did in fact create a new reality in Lebanon, in which both Israel and Hezbollah maintained calm and were not provoked into any full-on confrontations.
Resolution 1701 has as many holes as Swiss cheese; its main purpose – supervision of Hezbollah and keeping its forces away from the Lebanon-Israel border, north of the Litani River – has not been fulfilled. On the ground, however, it has passed the true test of quiet on both sides of the border – until now.
The long civil war in Syria and the strengthening of terrorist organizations there have cast a shadow on the Golan Heights and broken the relatively peaceful situation that existed for more than three decades. Hezbollah’s decision to join in the war against Islamic State, at the invitation of the Syrian regime, strengthened both the regime and Hezbollah.
The terrorist organization has gained confidence and improved its fighting capabilities.
It was only a matter of time before Syria, Hezbollah and Iran focused their sites on the Golan border in order to expand their range of threats against Israel.
The convoy of senior Hezbollah and Iranian officials that was attacked two weeks ago on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights was there as part of a new Iranian strategy.
The strike on the convoy not only claimed the life of Iranian Gen. Mohammed Allahdadi and Hezbollah’s Imad Mughniyeh, it set forth a redline.
From Israel’s point of view, the heating up and expansion of the northern front represent a negative development, and every effort must be made to contain the situation. But things spun out of control and led to Wednesday’s retaliation by Hezbollah, which followed warnings from Iran and the terrorist organization.
Israel faces a dilemma: If it retaliates against Hezbollah, we will find ourselves in a spiral of military operations that could quickly descend into an all-out military conflict.
If it declines to respond, our enemies may interpret this as a weakness and continue to provoke Israel.
This dilemma has existed for many years, but in the geopolitical reality that has emerged in Syria and Lebanon, it has taken on new dimensions.
Israel should do all it can not to play into the Iranians’ hands. Tehran may have an interest in an escalation; just as it didn’t restrain Hamas last summer, now it is not holding back Hezbollah.
From Iran’s perspective, it is demonstrating its ability to threaten Israel via proxies such as Hezbollah in the north and Hamas in the south, and to send Jerusalem a message: We will respond directly or via our proxies to any attack against us. In other words, we too have a long arm.
Israel, justifiably, wishes to retaliate strongly against any attack on its soldiers. It has been Israel’s long-standing policy that such attacks should not pass without response. I believe that at present, the right path for Israel to choose in as much as it depends on its actions is to restore quiet to the north.
We do not desire – and we certainly do not need – to be involved in two low-intensity conflicts within the space of a year that would once again damage the economy, harm civilian morale, put the IDF through another exhausting round of conflict and create challenges for Israel’s international relations.
Israel’s supreme interest is to expand the period of time between conflicts and not to narrow it. There is no need to display on every occasion our ability to reap destruction.
Syria remembers full well the attack on its nuclear site and on military convoys headed to Lebanon. Hezbollah has its own harsh memories of the Second Lebanon War and its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, is still afraid to go out in daylight. These are not experiences that will be easily forgotten, and so Israel can safely assume that its deterrence remains in place and will continue to do so.
The writer is a Labor MK and former IDF spokesman.