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An Israeli soldier speaks over a megaphone to people which stand next to the border fence between Israel and Syria from its Syrian side as it is seen from the Golan Heights near the Israeli Syrian border July 17, 2018..(Photo by: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
Analysis: David’s Sling and the Syrian regime’s new normal
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
07/23/2018
Increasingly frequent incidents in the Golan may be part of the end of the Syrian conflict, but could also herald a new normal of threats from Iran.
Fighting near the Golan triggered the David's Sling air-defense system on Monday and two interceptor rockets were seen heading skywards. Alarms sounded across the Golan, specifically in southern Golan communities. It was a reminder of July 11 when a drone from Syria penetrated into Israeli airspace before being shot down by a Patriot.

The Syrian regim's offensive that began in June has brought tension and crisis to the North. After years of quiet, the regime and its Russian and Iranian backers have swept the Syrian rebels from paerts of southern Syria near Jordan and the Israeli border fence on the Golan.

This presents Jerusalem with a host of concerns, including Hezbollah activity and Iranian-backed Shia militias.
On Saturday night Israel opened the border to allow hundreds of Syrian civil defense volunteers, known as White Helmets, to transit to Jordan where they will be resettled in the West.

An optimistic outlook on the Golan foresees the Syrian regime returning to the border and a return of the quiet that generally existed from the 1970s to 2011. The Assad regime long ago abandoned hope for recapturing the Golan using military force, but the regime may not be able to bring back the quiet that once reigned before 2011. This is because it is much weaker than before the war, having suffered massive attrition through seven years of fighting. Damascus lacks the resources for reconstruction, and it relies on Russia and Iran. Russia has tacit understandings with Israel that have successfully avoided any kind of misunderstanding in Syria since 2015 when Moscow fully intervened in the war. If Russia has a strong hand in southern Syria then quiet may prevail.

A more pessimistic view of what will happen involves a constant testing of Israel’s reactions by enemies in Syria. Iran is on the march, boasting of its regional hegemony. On Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the region would see the “mother of all wars” if there was conflict with the US, and President Donald Trump tweeted threats at Iran. The “mother of all wars” is a term borrowed from Saddam Hussein, who warned the US of the “mother of all battles.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on July 16 that “the Palestinian people will surely triumph over their enemies and will witness that day when the roots of the false Zionist entity are uprooted.” He claimed that the “satanic and vicious plot by the US for Palestine” would be stopped. Clearly, Tehran has Israel in its sights. But it is cautious about how to confront Israel. Its relations with the US impact on its behavior toward Jerusalem.

Two days after Trump announced that the US was leaving the Iran deal Iranian forces in Syria fired 20 rockets at Israel from Syria. In addition, drones have been testing Israel’s reactions since February when an Iranian drone flew into Israel near Beit She’an and was shot down. A Patriot missile intercepted Syrian drones on July 11 and 13.

An article in Al-Jarida on Friday claimed Israel has a list of Iranian targets in Iraq. This comes in the wake of an air strike on an Iranian-backed Iraqi militia in Albukamal, Syria, that took place in June. A US official blamed Israel for the air strike. In addition there have been two strikes in northern Syria, on July 16 and 22. Syrian media has blamed Jerusalem.

Despite all the concerns, the Golan has appeared normal over the last weeks. Tourists come and go and locals set out to bathe in springs and make barbecues on weekends. The crisis in Syria goes largely unnoticed. This is a testament to Israel’s defensive capabilities.

Jerusalem was able to navigate the possibility of a refugee crisis forming from the Syrian conflict, through support for individual cases of humanitarian aid while making sure most of the aid went over the Golan fence into Syria rather than hosting refugees in Israel.
But there is still fighting to come. The Islamic State affiliate next to the Golan is being pounded by the regime and there are Syrians who are fleeing the regime near the Golan. That is the near-term crisis; the long-term crisis of Iran’s influence in southern Syria will continue to impact Israel in the years to come
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