Monday, March 18, 2019

On the Golan, Iran talks, Israel walks - Prof. Eyal Zisser

by Prof. Eyal Zisser

The voices belong to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, or in Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas – but in both cases, the deeds are that of Iran.

Last week, the Israeli public received a reminder about the danger lying in wait in the north, amid reports of Hezbollah's ongoing efforts to establish a presence along the border on the Golan Heights. Over the weekend the country's focus was on the missile attack from Gaza on central Israel, which reminded us all – even if, according to IDF sources, the missile were launched as a result of "human error" – about the ticking time bomb on our southern border.

The voices belong to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, or in Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas – but in both cases, the deeds are that of Iran. The Islamic republic wants to tighten the noose around Israel with rockets and terror on all fronts. This, as it pursues the ultimate goal laid out two decades ago by none other than Yasser Arafat in his infamous Johannesburg speech, when he said that the Palestinians' strategic objective was to make life so hellish for Israelis that they would want to leave their country.

In the time that has passed, Israel has gained the upper hand in this conflict. Tehran has been forced to withdraw its forces from southern Syria and is struggling to realize its aspiration of building an active anti-Israel front on Syrian soil – including air and naval bases and mainly advanced missiles – with which to menace, deter and exhaust Israel.

Hezbollah's efforts to establish a foothold on the Golan have also been fruitless. Ever since it intervened in the Syrian civil war in the spring of 2013, the terrorist organization has tried establishing terrorist cells along the border with the help of local Syrians, and its operatives patrol the border frontier as a matter of routine. Hezbollah's aim is to form an active front against Israel, stretching, as declared by Nasrallah, from Rosh Hanikra on the Mediterranean Sea to Hamat Gader in the Jordan Valley.

Thus far, however, Israel has been able to thwart these efforts. Enlisted local operatives have been eliminated. Samir Kuntar – the child murderer who joined Hezbollah after his release from Israeli prison – and Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the organization's former military commander, were also assassinated after being tasked with spearheading these efforts.

Hezbollah has not given up, apparently, and recently formed a clandestine unit to gather intelligence on Israeli forces along the border to prepare the groundwork for future terrorist attacks. It has done this without the knowledge of its host, Syrian President Bashar Assad, who isn't heeded in Tehran or in Beirut, due to his weakness and utter dependence on Iranian military support.

Exposing this unit was meant to deter Hezbollah and let it know it is "exposed and vulnerable" to Israeli intelligence. It is also a message to Assad, who emerged victorious from his country's civil war, thanks to Russia and Iran, that Tehran and Hezbollah are looking to appropriate his triumph.

The Assad regime's lack of international legitimacy, due to his atrocities and particularly his weakness and willingness to bow to Iran and Hezbollah, have led the American administration to change its policies pertaining to Israel's status on the Golan. Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was the first to vote against a resolution condemning Israel's presence on the Golan Heights. "The destruction Assad is leaving in his wake proves he isn't capable of ruling over anything," she said at the time. Other senior American officials, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, who visited the territory last week, followed in her footsteps. Others in the international community will follow in the wake created by the Trump administration – similar to the American president's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Israel must be uncompromising as it continues countering Iran and Hezbollah's presence in Syria, whether through diplomatic means or warning shots fired via the media. First and foremost, however, it must strike the head of the snake every time it rears its head. Thanks to Assad, the Golan Heights will remain safely in Israel's hands.

Prof. Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.


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