Israel, Jordan fear escalation as Russia seeks provincial division in Syria

Shehab Al-Makahleh

Published: Updated:

The recent trouble in Jordan would pave the way for the Syrian army and its allies to move South West of Syria to regain control over the provinces of Dera’a, Suwaida and Qunaitra. The three governorates are on the triangle of Jordan, Syria and Israel.

But the question is why would Syria, Russia and Iran push to restore these areas in the coming period? Benefitting from the ramifications of the economic hardships in Jordan, the Syrian army would direct the forces to regain control of these provinces and to impose a de facto policy on Jordan.

The target is not Jordan but rather the Golan Heights which Israel has planned to create a buffer zone in the Syrian territories guarded by Syrian opposition (Free Syrian Army) since the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which was established by on May 31, 1974 to execute Resolution 338 of 1973, calls for immediate ceasefire between Israel and Syria.

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When the Syrian war started in 2011, the buffer zone between Syria and Israel became a bloody scene due to clashes in Qunaitra province between the Syrian army and the armed opposition. This prompted the UN to reconsider the safety of its mission by pulling them out. Thus, Israel has benefited from this withdrawal and created the buffer zone with Syria.

The opposition troops in this triangle are considered by many countries as moderate and adequate. However, since the Syrian troops are pushing South West to pave the way for opening borders with Jordan, this move would be risky to Jordan at this time as Jordan is passing through economic challenges.

Netanyahu’s success in convincing US administration to tear the nuclear deal has not been without a cost because this has driven Israeli army to develop a strategy to counter Iranian military presence near its borders

Shehab Al-Makahleh

Russia’s call

When the Russian government announced the need for foreign troops to pull out of South West of Syria, this of course includes Iranian and American troops as well. Yet, some have interpreted this statement as a tactic by Russia to help jettison other foreign forces except Russian which has two bases in Syria: A maritime base in Tartous and an airbase in Lattakia.

Russia is trying to divide the south into two parts based on a regional agreement with countries such as Jordan and Israel, where the Free Syrian Army in Dera’a has recently moved from neighboring villages.

A Russian plan to remove Free Syrian Army fighters from the province of Dera’a and the borders of Naseeb-Jaber (the crossing point with Jordan) in full is on in order to reopen the crossing in the coming weeks after reconstruction of the major buildings in Naseeb, which will be under the supervision of the Syrian army and the government’s security.

If this is achieved in the coming few weeks, the Jordanian talk about a 40-kilometer-long safe zone from the Golan Heights to the city of Nawa in Dera’a may have been viable and conducive to rehabilitate crossing points on the Syrian side.

Recent visits of Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and other security officials to Moscow reflect that Tel Aviv is considering three measures in Syria: a grand strategy, a scenario and a tactic.

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The grand strategy started already with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s call for ripping off the nuclear deal between the G-5 and Iran. He succeeded to convince the American President Donald Trump to pull out of the deal and impose further sanctions on Iran to weaken Iranian presence in Syria.

Netanyahu’s success in convincing the American administration to tear the nuclear deal has not been without a cost because this has driven the Israeli army to develop an offensive strategy to counter Iranian military presence near its borders, as Tel Aviv considers Iranian troops a strategic challenge.

According to Israeli intelligence sources, the war in Syria is far from over and since Israelis believe that Iran has emerged as the big winner in this war, the atmosphere will not be easy for Israelis.

As generals of the Israeli army acknowledge that it is the first time since 70 years that the State of Israel faces an existential threat which would lead to a war because Iran would speed up the pace to assemble the atomic bomb and produce it to be among the big five in Asia along with North Korea, Pakistan, Israel, India and China.

Israel and NATO

This leads to the scenario, which is forming an Israeli alliance with the NATO. This has been clear when Israeli troops have recently joined the NATO forces in military drills in Poland and the Baltic States, near Russian borders.

Israel which is a non-NATO member is taking part in these drills for the first time with hundreds of Israeli paratroopers. This is a message from Israel to Russia to exercise pressure on Iran to pull out its troops if not from all Syria, from South West of the country, which borders Israel and Jordan.

Such a scenario is not easy to forecast because of the many objectives each NATO country has in terms of military drills near Russia at a time the country is hosting the World Cup 2018. Is the message directed to Russia’s leadership not to interfere in Europe? It is a message for Moscow to contain Iran and its expansionist policies in Syria? Is it both?

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As per the tactical dimension, the ramifications for Israel to go into direct war with Iran is unexpected at the time being though there would be skirmishes by the borders to start an attrition war against the Israeli army.

The tactical part is also by the Russian and Syrian troops on Jordan to drive Amman to interfere because the kingdom has good relations with the opposition in Dera’a and Suwaida. In other words, the Russian-Syrian pressure will also be on Jordan to convince the Syrian armed opposition in the three provinces to hand over their arms and surrender to the Syrian army or to face death.

Of course, Jordan would favor the first option in order to avoid any clashes that would lead to the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees to cross the border to the Jordanian territory. This will add salt to its economic pains.

Syrian army has mobilized more than 40,000 troops to the war in Dera’a province. Thus, Jordan’s woes and afflictions have become apparent at a time the country is undergoing serious economic crisis.

The same applies to Israel, which fears the progress of Syrian troops toward Qunaitra with Russian surveillance since this would force the Free Syrian Army fighters to retreat to Israeli borders.
Shehab Al-Makahleh is Director of Geostrategic Media Center, senior media and political analyst in the Middle East, adviser to many international consultancies. He can be reached at: @shehabmakahleh and @Geostrat_ME.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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