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Israeli considerations in the Syrian arena

January 24, 2014 at 2:08 am

There are three objectives by means of which we can assess the Israeli policy towards the conflict in Syria, which are not masked by Tel Aviv’s feigned indifference and claim of neutrality. Nor do the statements made by some of its leaders stating that the regime in Damascus has lost its legitimacy and is no longer able to govern carry any credibility.

The first objective is the fuelling of the internal conflict in Syria in order to exhaust all sides and drain the energy of the community, driving it towards disintegration so that Israel will maintain its regional hegemony for decades to come. They are relying on the Syrians sinking in the devastation to the extent that they forget about the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, leading to the elimination of Damascus’s regional role. This, in turn, will take the country back to its past role as an arena for regional and global conflicts, having been able to play an influential regional role for decades by controlling Lebanon, playing the Palestinian card, placing Kurdish pressure on Turkey and disrupting the US occupation in Iraq.

Following the attempts by some Palestinian and Syrian activists to cross the dividing line into the occupied territory on the anniversary of the Six-Day War in June last year, Israel started to build yet another “separation wall” along the front line. Commenting on the skirmishes in the area between Syrian regime forces and Free Syrian Army groups, the Israeli defence minister said, “What is happening is invaluable.”

It is Israel that has monitored closely the Free Syrian Army takeovers of the districts and villages on the opposite side of the occupied plateau, and facilitated treatment for some of the wounded and injured. It is also Israel that turned a blind eye to airstrikes and attacks with heavy weapons carried out by regime forces in the city of Daraa at the beginning of the revolution, and then allowed a regime tank to enter the Quneitra crossing to hinder the Free Syrian Army’s control of the post. The Israelis deliberately overlooked the ban on overflights or entry of heavy weapons to the border areas, a ban agreed by Israel and Syria back in 1974.

The truth of the matter is that there is an inherent hostility on the part of Israeli officials towards the establishment of a democratic government in Damascus which could bring about a change in the strategic status quo and lead to the advancement and improvement of Syria’s strength and status.

It is well known that Israel has an ancient and deep interest in maintaining the tyranny and corruption of the Asad regime as it rules Syria in a manner that reins in the voices of freedom and democracy.

One of Israel’s wishes may be the escalation of the conflict and the logic of violence in Syria and that it continues to resort to oppressive and bloody solutions rather than negotiations and reaching political solutions in the context of true and comprehensive reforms. It always counts on the deterioration of the country in a state of chronic sectarian conflicts and more fragmentation rather than becoming a model for the struggle for freedom and democracy.

The second goal is Israel’s deep desire for the survival of the Syrian regime as a tried and tested model that has kept the Golan Heights stable and with which it is easy to reach understandings on the most sensitive issues, even if public statements suggest otherwise. This desire is long-standing and has not been weakened by the clashes and battles that broke out between Israel and Syria in the October 1973 War, and by proxy in southern Lebanon in 1978, 1982, 1996 and 2006; and in Gaza in 2008 and 2012. Tel Aviv has made statements during the many Syrian crises stressing the need to preserve the existing regime as it’s favoured option, in order for Syria to remain weak and for its potentially harmful – to Israeli interests – regional impulses to be curbed; as well as being less able to support Palestinian and Lebanese forces resisting the Zionist state.

It is likely that this desire will not change unless Israel is sure of its Western allies’ ability to control the process of change in Syria and control events, including the guarantee of a transitional government led by moderate opposition that will remain occupied with internal crises and reconstruction, and is not interested in reopening the issue of the Golan Heights. The reality remains that Israel is not afraid of anyone’s accusations as it announces publicly that it is leaning towards the empowerment of the current regime and fears the rise of political Islam in Syria, as elsewhere. The creation and revival of fundamentalist and jihadi groups and the threat they pose to Israel’s security and stability are also a concern. Israel itself will not wait to respond to any fire from the other side of the Syrian border, even if it is a mistake. It has directed numerous airstrikes against military targets in Syria over the years, most notably the site of Al-Kibar nuclear reactor near Deir El-Zor in late 2008. Moreover, Israeli aircraft have hit important buildings and facilities in Damascus in recent months, as well as some sites on the Syrian coast in an open attempt to prevent advanced weapons reaching Hezbollah that could change the balance of power on the battlefield.

Moreover, Israel exposed the horrendous violations and acts taking place in Syria, and is rumoured to have submitted reports documenting the use of banned weapons against civilians in some areas. There is also intelligence information that indicates the responsibility of the use of chemical weapons in east Ghouta, but Israel continues to make serious efforts to issue warnings and recommendations against changing the regime in Syria that agreed to hand over its chemical weapons stock .

Israel has done this not only by encouraging eastern nations such as the Soviet Union and China to support it and prevent its losses, but also through pressure to prevent the West from rushing to provide qualitative military support to the Syrian opposition. It relied on the pro-Israel lobby not only in Washington and influential European capitals but in Moscow as well.

Some attribute the Kremlin’s strict approach to the Syrian crisis, compared with its leniency regarding Libya, to a desire to serve Zionist policy more than actually protecting Russia’s interests in the region. It could also be about Israeli considerations as a hidden link in the exchange of roles and harmony between Washington and Moscow in terms of resolving the Syrian crisis.

The point is that Tel Aviv has a lot of influence on the situation in neighbouring countries, as it occupies part of their land. As such, the West and the East give it priority in determining what may accompany any change in the Syrian state and influence Israel’s interests and security. We all remember the interesting positions taken by Ehud Barak regarding Syria when he warned the Kremlin of the dangers of the success of the popular revolution on the security of his people, and in urging the White House to ease the pressure on the Syrian regime and leave it alone. This position is reinforced by Israeli officials’ recognition that Arab revolutions do not serve its policies in Palestine and the wider region. When Israel’s position and interests are against real change in Syria, even if some of its officials announce otherwise, it means that there is an international position that cannot overcome Israeli security concerns and strategic calculations.

The third goal is the opportunity that the Tel Aviv government will not miss out on to use the Syrian conflict in order to exhaust and drain its regional opponents and weaken them both physically and politically. Such opponents include Iran, Turkey and the Arab countries, all of which have started, in varying degrees, to get dragged into the Syrian swamp. It is reasonable to ask if Iran’s involvement in the war of attrition and sanctions weakened Tehran and forced it to give up what it had rejected previously and agree to the Geneva Conference conditions determined by the West and Russia regarding the monitoring of its uranium enrichment. Doesn’t this prove that the Iranian threat to wipe Israel off the map is and always has been entirely empty?

Moreover, didn’t the Turkish involvement in the Syrian crisis result in burdens and internal issues that have started to weaken Erdogan’s government and its regional position, enabling Tel Aviv to thwart its attempts to ride the Palestinian wave and win the sympathy of the Arab peoples? Those attempts reached their climax with Erdogan storming out of the Davos meeting in 2009 in protest at Shimon Peres, and Ankara’s remarkable stance against Tel Aviv’s theft of Turkish aid sent to Gaza, leading to the recall of both countries’ ambassadors.

On the other hand, there seems to be an Israeli objective that seems to be more of a distant and strategic consideration that is rarely talked about and is considered by some as a conspiracy theory; the interest of the Tel Aviv government in preserving the “axis of resistance and opposition” led by Iran, but keeping it weak, in order to continue to act as a bogey threatening and distracting the Arabs. This explains the Israeli procrastination in dealing with the Iranian nuclear plants despite threats of attacking them, and also explains its silence regarding the large number of Hezbollah fighters getting involved in the Syrian conflict. There is no problem, apparently, for the Syrian regime to benefit from the support of its allies on a doctrinal basis in escalating the sectarian conflict to the fullest extent, including the interest it will lead to in hitting the most important officials and fighters, as well as finishing off what’s left of the Lebanese group’s reputation as a political resistance party.

By means of these three objectives, Tel Aviv addresses its fears of unwanted developments in the Syrian revolution and the possibility of the Syrian regime falling and the Islamists rising to power, as long as they continue to promote slogans against Zionism and call for the liberation of the Golan Heights and the holy sites in Palestine. These concerns have doubled today with the rise of political Islam to government and influence in a number of Arab countries and with the anticipation of the formation of a dangerous ring of new forces and governments created by the Arab Spring, both Islamist and non-Islamist, surrounding Israel with hostile states. People are no longer convinced by those who say that Israel does not have a vision or special considerations regarding the crisis in Syria. Similarly, it is no longer acceptable to justify the ambiguity of its positions by saying that Israel is not comfortable with public and explicit involvement in internal events escalating in its enemy’s land.

In fact, there is what can be called Tel Aviv’s special approach to dealing with the Syrian crisis that appears to be deliberately neutral and indifferent, while it is urging and pressuring its allies in the West and East behind the scenes to keep the door of the conflict open and feed it in order to exhaust most of the forces hostile towards Israel.

There is a tendency to lay the blame for every national crisis at Israel’s door. Despite the clarity of the Syrian revolution’s original intentions and the clarity of the reasons for the excessive regime violence it is facing, many accuse the Zionist enemy of having a hidden role therein. We also hear some people repeating the same stereotypes that what the Syrian people are suffering from is a conspiracy led by Israel, perhaps due to the fact they sense that Tel Aviv is behind the West’s, and the international community’s, relative indifference to the horrific violence used against Syrian civilians. It may also be because Israel seems to be benefitting the most from the violence, killing and destruction that is crushing Syria.

The author is a Syrian writer. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera net on 12 January, 2014

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