News / Middle East

    Israel On Guard as Fighting in Syria Comes Closer

    Smoke rises from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights near the Kuneitra border crossing, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, June 6, 2013.Smoke rises from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights near the Kuneitra border crossing, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, June 6, 2013.
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    Smoke rises from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights near the Kuneitra border crossing, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, June 6, 2013.
    Smoke rises from the Israeli occupied Golan Heights near the Kuneitra border crossing, close to the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, June 6, 2013.
    Scott Bobb
    Fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near Syria's cease-fire line with Israel and along Syria's border with Lebanon has underscored Israeli fears the Syrian conflict increasingly is drawing closer. Israel says it is neutral but will respond if its security is threatened.
     
    Israeli troops in the Golan Heights watched Thursday as Syrian government forces and rebels battled for control of a crossing on the Syrian side of the cease-fire line that separates Syria and the Jewish state.

    It was another reminder for Israelis of how close the Syrian conflict is getting.  

    The expanding Syria fighting has Israel worried about security along its border, as noted this week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    Heightened security concerns

    He said the Middle East is going through a highly sensitive time: turmoil, revolutions and many changes. Netanyahu also said Israel has no interest in becoming a part of these conflicts, but is prepared to prevent any threat to Israel's security.
     
    Rockets and gunfire from battles between Syrian rebels and government forces have hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on several occasions, bringing Israeli retaliation.
     
    In addition, Israeli planes have struck in Syria at weaponry that Israel says was being transferred to Lebanon's Hezbollah group. Israel considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
     
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview this week on Hezbollah's al-Manar television that his forces would retaliate against Israel. He said Syria has responded directly to several Israeli violations in the past, and this depends on the feeling of the people. He said there is clear popular pressure on Syria to open the Golan front for resistance.
     
    An analyst with Tel Aviv's Institute for National Security Studies, Bernedetta Berti, said that although the Syrian conflict has not affected Israelis a great deal, security in the Golan is a concern.
     
    "There is a fear that the area bordering the Golan might increasingly become unstable, ungoverned and a magnet for foreign fighters, jihadis, or just in general militants who may have an antagonistic agenda with respect to Israel," said Berti.

    Treading carefully

    Hebrew University Professor of Middle Eastern Studies Moshe Ma'oz noted that Islamic militants have joined both sides in the Syrian conflict. He said the situation bears watching but urges caution on any Israeli response.
     
    "They are dangerous. They are motivated. They are ideological. But they are not very numerous. And many of them are not Syrians at all. And they endanger also the main body of the Syrian rebels," said Ma'oz.
     
    Israeli authorities are especially concerned that advanced weapons or chemical weapons might come under the control of Hezbollah or other Islamist groups.

    Israel says it will not allow this to happen, and its planes reportedly have struck such weapons in Syria on several occasions this year.
     
    Analyst Berti said the Israeli air strikes have been few and deliberately restrained.
     
    "This was an intervention that was, in the Israeli perception, selective and not meant to trigger broader involvement. In other words it was more a signaling to both Assad and Hezbollah that Israel was not going to tolerate such transfers of weapons," said Berti.

    Fears of regional conflict

    Israel has said it also would respond if Russia tries to deliver advanced S-300 air defense missiles to Syria as it has promised.
     
    Analyst Ma'oz said he does not believe Syria or Lebanon want to reignite a conventional war with Israel. But he said Syria's escalating civil war could have unintended side effects.
     
    "It's a dangerous situation and it can deteriorate into a regional war. And Israel has to be very careful to avoid further provocation," he said.
     
    The U.S. government, Russia and United Nations are trying to convene an international conference aimed at ending the Syrian conflict, though most analysts are not optimistic. The proposed peace gathering will not take place until at least July.

    Meanwhile, Israeli officials remain vigilant as fighting rages in nearby Syria.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: JKf from: Ottawa, Canada
    June 15, 2013 9:46 PM
    Historically, it is usually not a good idea for a bordering country to get involved in a civil war. Israel, so far, has maintained a neutral position, and it is the right option and choice. At the same time, any attempts to have a deliberate spill over, of a civil war, into an adjacent country need to be stopped immediately; and a buffer zone of at least double the distance of the longest range weapon utilized, in the spill over needs to be maintained. In my view, the situation on the Golan, is very risky, especially given all the threats that Assad has made re:opening a front against Israel on the Golan. Given that Syria has an airforce, and missiles with a range of several hundred Kms, any indications that a front against Israel is about to be initiated or it has been initiated, would have deadly consequences fot Syria's Assad; Israel, or any other nation in similar circumstances, would have no choice, but to respond in a very significant way. I hope this bleak scenario, does not occurr, because such a required response would in all likelyhood completely change the balance of power in Syria. So fa,r Israel has maintained a neutral position, in that it has not involved itself in trying to change the balance of military power in Syria, which I hope will remain unchanged. Assad has made a number of other serious errors, potentially he could make one more....

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    June 13, 2013 9:36 AM
    What is the understanding for positioning a standing army in the Golan Heights? If the UN is not willing to maintain the standing order, then let Israel which conquered it in the past move in and take care of it until the UN wakes up from sleep. It should not be Russia at all, an unpredictable lot. Austria pulled out this week for security reasons. If a peacekeeping mission is not able to maintain its status, then it is not worth its salt. This requires an urgent action to replace the ones that pulled out, because a war between Israel and its unfriendly neighbors goes beyond acceptable war-games rules. So it's either the UN moves quickly or Israel makes the move. The bottom line is Israel and the neighborhood must be safe.

    by: Anonymous
    June 07, 2013 9:10 PM
    So Putin is offering to put troops in the Golan heights, that would never happen. Russia wants to get their nose in there, Putin has to realize once the war in Syria is over, the Russian Navy & Army will never be welcomed in Syria again. Are you really that stupid Putin? Do you think Israel would ever want your men in the Golan Heights? You must either be a) On glue or b) just plain stupid.

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