Wednesday, July 25, 2018

One Hundred Kilometers Between War And Peace In Syria?

One hundred kilometers between war and peace in Syria?

Any time Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appears in public flanked by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot there is, invariably, something in the air; and, indeed, Israeli jets just hours prior to their meeting on Monday reportedly struck a Syrian chemical weapons production facility.

That a high-level Russian delegation led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Eizenkot's counterpart Valery Gerasimov made an unannounced visit to Jerusalem to join the Israeli trio further reinforces the gravity of the issue at hand: namely, Iran's ongoing efforts to establish a permanent military foothold in Syria, from where it could open up another front along Israel's borders—in addition to mobilizing Hizbullah in Lebanon as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip—in a future war with the Jewish state.

This fragile, albeit relatively steady, equilibrium appears to be the new reality in Syria, at least for the foreseeable future and in the absence of a comprehensive agreement between competing powers, one that Moscow is intent on forging with a view to winding down the seven-year conflict.

Having reasserted himself as a dominant player in the Middle East, while reinforcing Russia's military assets principally in Latakia, Russian President Vladimir Putin's current aim is to restore a modicum of stability to Syria; this, in order to secure the Kremlin's geopolitical gains and to begin the phase of reconstructing the country, a process in which Moscow will play a central role, likely to the tune of multi-billion dollar contracts.

While Israel has long maintained that Iranian forces must ultimately vacate Syria completely, Jerusalem recently appeared to walk back its position, with officials stressing the immediate need to expel all Tehran-aligned fighters from the border region.

As such, many eyebrows were raised when news surfaced that Netanyahu et al. rejected out-of-hand a purported offer by Lavrov & Co. to prevent these elements, including members of Hizbullah, from operating within 100 km. (60 miles) of the Israeli Golan Heights.

The revelation has led many to ponder whether Israel is asking for too much and, if not, whether Russia, even if it wanted to, is in a position to satisfy these the demands.

According to Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yaacov Amidror, previously the chairman of Israel's National Security Council and close adviser to Netanyahu, "the logic of the numbers is very clear.

Assuming the Iranians agree to the 100 km. [no-go zone], they will build a base 105 km.

away that can launch missiles into Israel.

"Even at this distance," he elaborated to The Media Line, "the Iranians have rockets that can strike Tel Aviv, [such as the Fateh-110 with a range of 300km]. From Israel's point of view, it is impossible to allow the Iranians to build another such war machine. And if the Russians cannot deliver then Israel will do what it has to on its own through force." Amidror, a senior Fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, therefore believes that for Israel initiating a conflict now is preferable than allowing the Islamic Republic to build up its military capability in Syria on par with that of Hizbullah's in Lebanon.

While every military expert that spoke to The Media Line offered varying assessments, all agreed on one point; namely, that Israel cannot under any circumstances permit the "Lebanonization" of Syria by arch-foe Iran.

Moreover, they near-uniformly stressed that this is the prevailing, if not uncompromising but necessary, position not only of Netanyahu, but of the entire Israeli military establishment.

As such, it is hard to envision a totally peaceful resolution to the Israel-Iran stand-off in Syria—a reality the Russians may only now be grasping cannot be fundamentally altered by 100 kilometers of space.

No comments: