Monday, November 6, 2017

Between a rock and a hard place - Yoav Limor

by Yoav Limor

While the covenant between the Israeli Druze and the State of Israel is clear and unquestionable, Hader is an enemy village whose allegiance lies with Assad.

The events in the Golan Heights last weekend are yet another reminder of how easily Israel could be sucked into the civil war in Syria, even if ostensibly nothing new happened. Tahrir al-Sham – a terrorist alliance of radical Sunni rebel groups, predominantly the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front – perpetrated a suicide bombing against supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Syrian Druze village of Hader. At no point was Hader in danger of being taken over, but the incident threatened to ignite the entire region.

The incident led the Druze in Israel to believe their Syrian brethren were in danger. Community leaders acted on two fronts, pressuring political and military leaders on the one hand and sending Druze out to the street. Hundreds of youth arrived at the border and even broke through the fence at a certain point. The Israel Defense Forces were forced to adopt a two-pronged approach to ease the tension: first by deterrence, warning Tahrir al-Sham that an attack on Hader will not be tolerated, and second by reassuring both the Druze community leaders and its youth that they have they IDF's protection, convincing them to return to Israeli soil.

In this case, Israel is stuck between a rock and a hard place. While the covenant between the Israeli Druze and the State of Israel is clear and unquestionable, Hader is an enemy village whose allegiance lies with Assad. In fact, Hezbollah cells have been sent from the village to operate against the IDF. Supporting Hader, therefore, would not just support the Druze, but help Assad in the civil war in Syria.

On the other hand, refraining from aiding Hader would not only be a slap in the face of Israeli Druze, some of whom have relatives in Hader, but would also aid the rebels, in this case, al-Qaida in the Golan. No one in Israel has any illusions about what will happen if Hader is conquered and terrorists will be a stone's throw away from Majdal Shams.

The Israeli decision was unambiguous. Just like the last time it was feared the village would be captured, in 2014, Israel made it clear last Friday that it would protect Hader as part of its covenant with the Druze in Israel. This, however, should not be taken to mean that the IDF intends to send ground forces into Syrian territory. Israel dominates Hader topographically and could have stopped the rebels from arriving by an aerial operation and long-range fire.

Even though Israel made a clear call, the problem remains. All anyone who wants to drag Israel into the Syrian civil war, or even just to undermine the close ties with the Druze community, needs to do it attack Hader. This does not bode well for Israeli strategy in Syria, as it takes some of the control over events in the area away from Israel and places it in the hands of irresponsible third-parties in the Golan Heights.

While the Syrian front eventually subsided Saturday, at least temporarily, the Lebanese front heated up. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri's resignation does not directly affect Israel, but his resignation speech sounded as if it was taken straight out of the Israeli government's book. He blamed Hezbollah and Iran in meddling in internal Lebanese interests and disclosed an alleged assassination attempt against him just a few days earlier.

There is no doubt Hariri fears he might be assassinated, not only because that was the end his father, Rafik Hariri, met in 2005, but also because he knows his rivals wells and understands their motivations. This was not the first time he had publicly denounce the Shiite axis and not only was it personally brave, it was also a public call for the international community to save Lebanon. Over the next few days, we will learn whether he was acting independently or on behalf of his Saudi patron-partners.

Hariri's speech made things complicated for Hezbollah: Not only did he hint that the Shiite terrorist organization was responsible for the foiled attempt on his life and openly accuse it of trying to usurp control of Lebanon, Hezbollah now stands to be blamed for the political chaos that already simmering in Lebanon over the prime minister's resignation. This means that instead of resting on its laurels and recovering after the military victory in the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah will be trapped in a new political quagmire in Lebanon.

Yoav Limor


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