Thursday, February 8, 2018

War Coming: Israel On A 'Collision Course' With Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah Axis - 'Only Russia Can Stop It'

Analysts: Israel's headed to a war in Syria, and only Russia can stop it

[Is Isaiah 17 on the horizon?]

As Syrian dictator Bashar Assad fights to regain control over the last holdouts of rebel resistance, the seven-year-old civil war is entering a new phase that is setting Israel on a collision course with the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah axis.
This can be seen in the recent airstrikes in Syria reportedly conducted by Israel and — as importantly — in the increasingly brazen ways that Damascus has responded to them. The most recent example was early Wednesday morning when, according to Syrian reports, Israeli aircraft bombed a military scientific research facility outside Damascus, which is suspected of both developing chemical weapons for Assad and assisting Iran and Hezbollah in improving their missile technology.
According to a new report by the International Crisis Group, a think tank and advocacy firm, the only figure able to prevent a full-fledged, bloody conflict between Israel and the Iran-led axis is Russia, which has emerged from the Syrian civil war as the sole remaining powerbroker.
The United States is barely mentioned as having a role to play in any potential deescalation efforts, in light of both Moscow’s rising status in the region and America’s diminishing one, as it significantly scaled back its involvement in Syria over the past few years, according to Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst for the Crisis Group who helped write the report.
“Only Moscow is in a position to mediate a bolstering of the deescalation agreement. Unless it does, the rules of the Syrian game are likely to be worked out through attack and response, with risk of escalation,” according to the report.

The Crisis Group’s report, “Israel, Hezbollah and Iran: Preventing Another War in Syria,” was released on Thursday. It is the result of a year’s worth of interviews by researchers for the organization with diplomats and defense officials in Jerusalem, Tehran, Beirut, Washington, Moscow and Amman, Zalzberg told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, ahead of its publication.

As the Crisis Group also functions as an advocacy organization, it has not only released this report to the public, but has been working directly with Russia to try to persuade it to accept the role of mediator between Israel, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

“And we are seeing some traction with Russian officials,” Zalzberg said.
The group outlines three main aspects that would need to be addressed: the presence of Iranian and Shiite forces near the Israeli border; the construction of Iranian military infrastructure in Syria; and reaching an agreement that “whatever happens in Syria, stays in Syria,” so that fighting doesn’t spillover into Lebanon.
The report does not indicate that a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is imminent, as both sides currently see value in maintaining a relative calm, but implies that as the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis wrests back full control over the country, the Lebanese terrorist group could start antagonizing Israel from southern Syria, where it enjoys something of an advantage, as it has few significant assets in that area for the Israel Defense Forces to strike.

Hearing from the various parties, the Crisis Group analysts came to the disconcerting conclusion that the sides do not have a clear understanding of each other’s concerns and desires, which raises the potential for the kind of miscalculation that leads to war, Zalzberg said.

For instance, he said, Israel does not see Hezbollah and Syria as being independent actors, with their own goals, but as little more than “marionettes” controlled by Iran — a view that is not shared by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah or Russia.

Unlike in the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah when the fighting was primarily limited to northern Israel and southern Lebanon, the view of both Israeli and Hezbollah officials is that the next conflict between the two groups would also include fighting in Syria.

“A massive campaign by Israel will do enormous damage to [Damascus and its backers’] achievements, perhaps even destabilising the regime itself,” the report noted.
According to Zalzberg, this is not a desirable situation for Russia, as Moscow would like to see Assad — a strong, secular Arab leader — remain in power in Syria.
Zalzberg added that Russia might like to see a small-scale war between Israel and Hezbollah, as Moscow could further improve its international status by negotiating a ceasefire.

However, it realizes that since the prevailing view is that any sustained fighting between the two would likely devolve into all-out war — with Hezbollah firing upwards of a thousand rockets and missiles a day at Israel, while the IDF pounds it back with strikes from the air, sea and ground — all conflict between the two sides should be avoided.

Backing Assad has put Moscow on the same side as the Syrian despot’s other main supporters, Iran and Hezbollah, a fact that leaves Israeli officials decidedly wary of their Russian counterparts.

The Crisis Group report quotes an unnamed Israeli foreign ministry official as saying, “It’s hard to trust them. They tell us they are not selling weapons to Hizbollah, but we know for a fact that they do. Their policies are cynical. They are not an enticing mediator.”

According to defense analysts, fighting alongside Russian troops has also helped turn Hezbollah into a more effective terrorist army with better tactics, strategies and the aforementioned weapons.

After Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jets that had invaded its airspace, Moscow installed an S-400 missile defense system in Syria. With the system, one of the world’s most advanced anti-aircraft batteries, Russia could monitor the overwhelming majority of Israel’s active airspace, including Israeli military flights.
Or, as one Israeli official told the Crisis Group, “A fly can’t buzz above Syria without Russian consent nowadays.”
This came as a shocking blow to the Israeli Air Force, which had, until then, enjoyed unquestioned aerial superiority in the region, and required Jerusalem and Moscow to set up a hotline to prevent any potential conflicts between the two militaries.

The border area has naturally been of significant concern for Israel, which is loath to see Hezbollah set up military positions along the Golan Heights to join the significant infrastructure it has already put in place in southern Lebanon.

No comments: