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Is Israel exaggerating or threatening?

January 24, 2014 at 11:08 am

Israel’s Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz and former Head of Military Intelligence General Amos Yadlin have been discussing the situation in Syria and Lebanon, expressing concerns about Islamist radicals taking over.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Institute of National Security Studies at the University of Tel Aviv, Gantz said, “There is a possibility that there will be an ‘Alawistan’ state established in the north western areas of Syria, and recently we’ve heard a new term called ‘Afghanikhan’… We are not going to wait for this to happen.” He pointed out that Israel has been preparing for more than a year in case it does happen.

When talking about the latest developments in Syria, he said that the instability is on the rise day by day, and that the Israeli army is preparing for this while taking into account the possibility of less stability along the border area with Syria on the occupied Golan Heights.

Israeli leaders and strategists have not hidden their hopes for the division of neighbouring Arab states into smaller “Banana Republics” based on tribal loyalties or ethnicity. Such states are unlikely to be able to strong coalitions, which would be to Israel’s advantage.

Yadlin expressed clearly Israel’s interest in the break-up of Syria by calling for an increase in the pressure on the Assad regime. This, he hopes, will end the current Tehran-Damascus-Hezbollah (in Lebanon) axis. So is Israel involved in destabilising Syria and Lebanon at this time?

According to General Gantz, “The Israel Defence Forces must be ready for battles that can be concluded permanently in the near future.” If, he added, Israel has to launch another offensive against Lebanon he does not want it to last for more than a month.

Where will such battles be fought? Are they taking place now in the Syrian countryside around Homs between the regime’s forces and the opposition? Will the Israelis intervene and, if so, how? Or will there be clashes along the ceasefire line on the occupied Golan Heights? And would such clashes be a good excuse for Israel to enter Syrian territory in order to establish a buffer zone to stop “attacks” against it, prevent “terrorists” from infiltrating; and stop Syrian refugees from flooding in?

Gantz’s intention that a military operation against Lebanon should not last more than a month could be a thinly-veiled threat to Hezbollah so that it won’t attempt to obtain advanced weapons from Syria such as anti-aircraft S-17 missiles. It could even be an exaggeration so that Hezbollah won’t increase its participation in defending villages inhabited by Lebanese in the countryside of Western Homs. Moreover, Gantz could be using Syria’s preoccupation with its own problems to prepare a decisive blow against Hezbollah.

Commentators in Beirut have examined the statements of Gantz and Yadlin and concluded that the former’s words about Israeli participation in Syria are an exaggeration for the benefit of the regime’s opponents. A possible strike against Lebanon lasting no more than a month is also exaggeration, it is claimed, because Israel is wary of engaging Hezbollah again, given that the Lebanese resistance has the capability of hitting Israeli cities with its missiles. A so-called “soft war” would be preferable to the Israelis, say the Lebanese strategists, and this would include assassinations and the promotion of Sunni-Shia conflict. However, they believe that Israel may resort to another invasion if Hezbollah obtains advanced anti-aircraft systems from Syria or Iran.

With regards to Syria, the feeling in Beirut is that Israeli involvement would be limited to supporting schemes which would see the country disintegrate into smaller statelets along ethnic or sectarian lines.

On Iran, the Beirut commentators rule out a unilateral Israeli strike against Tehran’s nuclear facilities without prior agreement and support from the US. Such a strike would inevitably ignite a wider conflagration which could damage US interests in the region.

In the final analysis, it is agreed that Israel’s actions will be governed by regional and international considerations and that the US will not allow it to proceed with anything which does not fit in with Washington’s plans for the region.

The author is a Lebanese writer. This article is a translation from the Arabic which appeared in Al Khaleej newspaper, 27 April, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.