Written by Ramy Srour
“They will win the next war, I’m sure of it.” This is what Sagiv Kehlia, a second lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), told the Washington Post a few days ago. He was referring to the Israeli army. The next war? That’s still a big question mark. It could be Israel’s next war with Lebanon, or with Syria. Or with Syrian-backed Lebanon. Or Hezbollah-backed Syria. Still not clear, but you get the picture. Lebanon and Syria—with Hezbollah in between—are two very credible threats to Israeli national security today. And the IDF is taking precautions.
Israeli troops during an exercise. From: http://www.vosizneias.com
Earlier this week, the IDF staged a mock attack on an imaginary Hezbollah-held village. The village homes were Hollywood-set houses in the northern Israel base at Eliakim; the Hezbollah militants holding the village were Israeli soldiers; and the grenades and shots that were fired during the mock exercise were just fake smoke weapons. Nobody died, but the exercise was a real exercise, aimed at preparing the IDF for a real threat.
As the crisis in Syria drags on, with no real end in sight, Israel is training for what could very well be the next developments of the nearly three-year-old civil war that has destabilized neighboring Syria and Lebanon, and the region in general. William Booth, the Post’s bureau chief in Jerusalem, says that since the outbreak of conflict, Syria has been providing Hezbollah with weapons that were then smuggled into Lebanon. All of a sudden, the effects of Assad’s crackdown have to be contained also on the Israel-Lebanon border.
Israel’s murky border with Syria is already a big source of concern. The buffer zone along the Golan Heights has seen tense Israeli soldiers constantly eyeing equally tense Syrian troops. The eyeing goes both ways. The Israeli village of Alonei Habashan is only a few hundred yards away from the ceasefire line. The sound of shelling from the other side of the border has become a sinister everyday normality for Israeli civilians living in this small village.
Israeli F-16s fly over Tel Aviv for Israel’s 63rd Independence Day. Source: http://idfblog.com
Chemical weapons or political solution?
So far, the first Syrian town east of the border, Quneitra, is still controlled by Assad’s forces. But only a few miles east of there, rebel troops are running the show.
The news of this mock-exercise in northern Israel raise some important questions on what the international community is doing about Syria.
The level of alertness to which the IDF is forced is an indicator of the fact that the humanitarian and security crises in Syria are far from over. The chemical weapons deal brokered between the Obama Administration and the Russians may have solved the weapons problem: but it has achieved practically nothing on the question of where this civil war is going.
A law professor and friend of mine told me just yesterday something that made me think. He said the U.S. looked at Syria and, amidst all the confusion, chaos, and the killings, picked a very tiny small detail and decided it wanted to hang on it: Assad’s chemical stockpile. And I think he’s right.
The civil war has unraveled for almost three years; more than 100,000 people have died; millions of refugees have poured into fragile and unstable Lebanon; thousands of other refugees are taking the perilous sea route to Europe—and sadly dying along the way. But we had to get rid of the chemical weapons first.
It was almost too good to be true when Assad decided to acquiesce to the request. Could it be that the request didn’t seem that burdensome to the regime? The swift and positive response to the U.S.-Russian deal seems to suggest just that.
Regional powers may have to go it alone, from now on
Well, chemical weapons or not, the way the U.S. Administration handled the crisis sends one important message to countries in the region: America is far more reluctant to getting entangled in the Middle East than it used to be.
Copyright: The Christian Science Monitor
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Israel, probably the most threatened state in the area—though definitely not the only one—has started to adopt its own measures. As former IDF commander recently put it to an NBC reporter,
“If the [U.S.] president talks about red lines and then doesn’t act on them, then it’s bad news for us. If the U.S. is not prepared to take action in this part of the world, then the conclusion has to be that we have to take care of ourselves. Israel will do it alone.”
The mock Hezbollah exercise is probably one of the tens of other precautions Israel has taken over the past two years as a response to the Syrian crisis. But it sends an important message: that the tension in the region is at a historical high, and that something needs to be done soon lest these tensions develop into major conflict.
In a recent paper I published for the Rome-based Archivio Disarmo, I suggested that what some at the UN are pushing for—a political solution to the crisis through the Geneva Process—should gain much more attention. Hopefully, the UN and the international community will realize the urgency of the matter, and move forward with the Process as soon as possible.