While waiting for Washington’s position towards old nationalist Kurdish aspirations, at least in Northern Syria, more interest is silently being accorded to what may be the most serious flashpoint in the Near East today. It is Southern Syria.
Recently, Asharq Al-Awsat published Israeli viewpoints on the region extending from Albu-Kamal, on the Iraqi border in the east, all the way westwards to the Ceasefire line in the Israeli Golan Heights, including Al-Tanf checkpoint on the Jordanian borders. What was expressed was quite interesting, although what we have learned from the experience is that the essence of Israeli policy is never what is being said, but what takes place on the ground.
Indeed, often, most public pronouncements are nothing but attempts of diverting attention, if not outright misleading and bluffing.
So, for a moment, let us leave behind what is being said and concentrate, instead, on the facts in Southern Syria.
The first is that the Syrian regime, whether directly or through pro-Regime village-defense vigilante groups, is well-established near the Southwest corner of the country. Israel, on its parts, accepts the principle of village-defense groups for both humanitarian and sectarian reasons as long as it does not have to pay a political or strategic price for their existence. However, there is a military presence too for the Regime as well as Hezbollah militia – subsequently, Iran – on the eastern slopes and foothills of Mount Hermon. Thus, silence here means that Israel does not feel such presence is a threat.
The second fact is that in southwestern Dera’a Province (Southern Jadhour and western Hauran) exists an ‘enclave’ that comprises a few villages and is controlled by ISIS. This ‘enclave’ is supposed to be geographically isolated from the rest of Dera’a Province which constitutes the ‘heart’ of historical Hauran (Roman ‘Auranitis’) and would be vulnerable to air attacks; yet, neither the Regime – which has already destroyed Aleppo, Homs, and many Damascus suburbs – nor Israel has attacked it!
While waiting for Washington’s position towards old nationalist Kurdish aspirations, at least in Northern Syria, more interest is silently being accorded to what may be the most serious flashpoint in the Near East today. It is Southern Syria.Eyad Abu Shakra
The third fact is that Israel, which in December 1981 officially annexed the occupied heights after the 1967 War, considers the annexed area an indivisible ‘Israeli territory’. In fact, since then the former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and various Israeli leaders were engaged in political maneuvers regarding the ‘liberation’ of the Golan Heights. Both parties were doing their best to ‘justify’ why they were running away from a solution. Among the ‘justifications’ was the ‘disagreement’ on the future of al-Batiha and al-Himma lands on the shores of Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee), and the borders drawn by the tidal water level of the lake. Once, an Arab hydrologist who knew a lot about this issue told me that Hafez al-Assad was keen to maintain the ‘no war no peace’ situation – including keeping the Golan under Israeli occupation – because this would continue to portray his regime as a bastion of “steadfastness and confrontation” against Israel, and thus, sparing him the risks of opening up to true democracy, freedoms and proper constitutional rule. On the opposite side, Israel would benefit from the Syrian regime becoming a fake umbrella for lip-service “steadfastness and confrontation” while serving Israel strategic interests.
The fourth fact is that since the Arab-Israeli War of October 1973, which aimed at handing over all the regional cards to Washington, the Golan ceasefire line was the calmest of all regional ‘fronts’. Animosity towards Israel was never translated into military action except in Lebanon as part of qualifying to become part of the ‘Shi’ite Crescent’, the Palestinian Territories with the intention of fomenting a Palestinian civil war, and, of course, in popular TV series and patriotic songs. It is well known that the Syrian army entered Lebanon in 1976 to crush the Palestinian ‘resistance’ organizations with an American green light and Israeli blessings. The only thing that changed since then was the ‘details’ of the unwritten ‘accords of co-existence’ between Damascus and Tel Aviv in 1982, when the Israelis swept through Lebanon. However, things went back to normal after overturning Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait in 1990. Hafez Al-Assad’s participation in liberating Kuwait with the OS-led Allied Forces was rewarded by the Americans – and Israelis – by giving him yet again a free hand in Lebanon. The result has been the liquidation of the ‘Lebanese State’ in favor of Hezbollah’s ‘State of the Resistance’.
The fifth fact is that Israel has accepted, since withdrawing its troops from Southern Lebanon in 2000 and declaring the ‘victory of Hezbollah’, to co-exist with a Lebanon run by Hezbollah, which is an organ of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC). Israel, which is well aware of what Hezbollah is, to whom it is connected, and what it has done to the Lebanese fabric, was keen in 2006 to gift it another political victory in order to enhance its nationalist ‘legitimacy’. That year Israel launched a devastating war intended to ruin Lebanon’s infrastructure but not Hezbollah’s. After that, a tacit understating emerged by which it became clear that the pro-Iran militia could use its military arsenal anywhere within Lebanon and the Arab world but not against Israel.
The sixth fact is that after fighting inside Syria in support of Bashar al-Assad’s Regime alongside other Iranian-led Shi’ite militias, Hezbollah was treated by Israel the same way the Assad regime was being treated; i.e. through coded messages. The reality is that Israel has so far regarded the survival of both the Assad regime and Hezbollah as an Israeli ‘strategic goal’, but under Israeli conditions. Hence, as we have been noticing recently, Iran and its henchmen and puppets have put aside fiery rhetoric and military marches for the ‘liberation of Jerusalem’, while using the deadliest weapons to ‘liberate’ Syrian cities and villages from their inhabitants and occupying four Arab capital cities!
As a result, if we look at what has remained of Syria, we cannot fail to see that the ‘De-escalation Areas’ format hides a grand plan, in which the ‘Iranian Crescent’ plays a central role; and if messages from Washington and Moscow to Turkey and the secessionist Kurds appear contradictory, Israel’s silence towards the situation in Southern Syria does not mean that Tel Aviv is disinterested.
In fact, Israel, which has implicitly defended Assad in Western capitals, is now expecting its share in not only the ‘Syrian cake’, but also the “regional cake’. It hopes to place the whole of natural and historical Hauran under its sphere of influence.
This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat.
Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances. Eyad tweets @eyad1949.