Harbingers of another war in the Middle East

12 - May - 2013

Israel's main concern is that the jihadists could be enabled in Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon to get chemical or conventional weapons from the Syrian government inventory.

Israel's intensified air force flights over Lebanon gives rise to suspicions that it may prepare for big air operations against Hezbollah or Syria, or may be both, as Islamists proceed into southern Syria, close to the occupied zone in the Golan Heights.
On January 30th, Israel sent a message; an airstrike targeting a weapons convoy leaving a Syrian army depot near the Lebanese border. Just a few hours earlier Israeli jets had attacked Syrian «scientific research center» north-west of Damascus. Israel is watching closely and ready to deliver a blow.

On March 24, one of Israeli vehicles was hit by shooting from across the Israeli-Syrian ceasefire line on the Golan Heights.  Israeli army responded with accurate fire toward the Syrian post from which they were fired on. Technically, war between Israel and Syria started in 1967; the Golan Heights has been mostly quiet since then. Now Israel is carefully watching the violence from the sidelines. It has returned fire on several occasions. Most of the cases have apparently been accidental, but there has been a response.

The fighting with Syria has reached all the way to Israel's borders by the end of the month. Syrian army and rebel forces fought for control over the village of Moshav Alonei Habashan, a settlement located in the central Golan Heights under the administration of Israel.
Rebel forces have recently detained 21 UN peacekeepers from the Philippines, before releasing them safe and unharmed three days later. But unexpected problem occurs; several countries have already withdrawn their troops and others may follow, leaving the area beyond the UN surveillance.

Israel has a grave concern that the government or even the rebels would use chemical weapons. Hezbollah may get hold of them too. In return, Israel has publicly warned that it would take military action to prevent the chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon or Jihadists fighting inside Syria. Israeli military intelligence satellites are reported to monitor the area for possible convoys delivering weapons.

Egypt:

Since Mubarak has been overthrown, Palestinian groups and a local branch of al-Qaeda have intensified attacks against Egyptian police units. Most of the attacks took place in the mountains of central Sinai. As Sinai appeared to be out of security control, it is said that Egypt becomes more dangerous to Israel than Iran. A concern that was confirmed by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on April 23, 2012 during a visit to Baku, Azerbaijan.

Last year, relations between the two governments started to grow increasingly strained; Egypt withdrew its ambassador to Tel Aviv and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula a «kind of Wild West». Netanyahu is accusing Iran of contributing to that increased unrest in the region. Under the 1979 peace treaty, Israeli troops are prohibited to enter the Sinai Peninsula as it was given to Egypt in return for peace; If Egypt were to break the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, there might be a justification for Israel to take the Sinai over to create a buffer zone.

Egyptian officials have slowed down in the completion of a wall to stop underground gunrunning from Egypt into Gaza. Egypt’s military caretaker government has demonstrated less concern in monitoring terrorist activity in the Sinai, as well as along its border with Israel. Cooperation between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas has increased according to the deficiencies in Egyptian security services.

Syria:

Jordan and Egypt are the only countries in the region to have signed a peace agreement with Israel. The accord between the two nations means that they often discuss security issues affecting the region. On December 27, 2012, Al Quds Al Arabi reported that secret talks were held in Amman between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II. They discussed Syria’s potential use of chemical weapons. The United States has previously said that any use of such weapons by Syria’s security forces against the civilian population would constitute a «red line» and could provoke an international military action. Somehow it never mentioned the possibility of provocation by rebels.

Some of rebel forces are threatening to invade Israel, although the US has been arming them in Syria and may be helping train them in Jordan. The powerful jihadist groups, particularly the al-Nusra Front, are pushing into southern Syria, where they face Israel across the 1973 war cease-fire line on the Golan.

In February, Israel has deployed a third Iron Dome missile defense system near its northern borders with Syria and Lebanon. The Iron Dome systems have been deployed alongside a U.S. - supplied Patriot battery, which has been stationed in the north for years.

Lebanon:

After the Israeli army learned the lesson, after battling Hezbollah to a standstill in 2006, it is getting ready for the next battle against a familiar foe; Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. This time the army is willing to inflict serious damage on the group. Israel says that Hezbollah has added to its arsenal tens of thousands of rockets and missiles capable of hitting almost anywhere in the Jewish state.

Israeli military officials often say it is only a matter of time before the hostilities broke out. The fall of the Syrian leader or an expected Israeli raid against Iran, the main patron of Hezbollah, could spark an all-out war again. Hezbollah, a longtime ally of the Assad's government, is concerned about being cut off from Iran and its arms supply line if Damascus regime falls. Iranian Revolutionary Guards play an important role in the decision-making body of the organization - the Shura Council. Terrorist group says it will never recognize Israel or make peace with it. A January 30th air strike, presumably against a convoy of Hezbollah's arms, explained how jumpy the Israelis are getting about Iran's support for Syria or Hezbollah.

The overwhelmingly Sunni Free Syrian Army (FSA) threatens to strike at the Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon after the Iranian-backed movement sought to extend its control of Syrian territory along the border. The Hezbollah’s push on the border may have grave implications. Some sources say the organization had deployed 1,000 fighters, partly to relieve Syrian troops needed to block rebel advances in the north. Hezbollah has sought to expand the control over some 20 Shiite villages on the Syrian side of the border by seizing nearby Sunni villages where the FSA’s formations are deployed. That would spark a sharp escalation of the Syrian conflict and ignite broader Sunni-Shiite violence in Lebanon.

Hezbollah is widely believed to have substantial forces in Syria fighting alongside the Syria’s military. To complicate matters further, Hezbollah today is a member of the Lebanese government, which has publicly backed its continued military buildup. This despite the fact that numerous UN Security Council resolutions and Lebanon's own Taif accord call for the radical Shiite group and all other militias in the country to be disarmed.

True, Hezbollah is preoccupied with its own domestic problems and the precarious position of its Syrian ally; it may have no desire to reignite hostilities. But the Syrian civil war, as well as Israel’s tensions with Iran, could easily upset the fragile balance. Today the Israeli military possesses sophisticated real-time intelligence and upgraded drones. For any potential land operation, it has fortified its Merkava armored personnel vehicles, activated a new tank-defense that can shoot down anti-tank rockets and recently deployed Iron Dome, a rocket defense system that shot down hundreds of rockets during a recent round of fighting against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Iran:

The example of the Arab spring revolts may now inspire even greater internal resistance. This in turn could lead the regime to blame foreign interference, as it has in the past, and lash out abroad.

The June 2013 presidential election could possibly motivate street battles and civil unrest that, in the summer of 2009, appeared to be close to overthrowing the revolutionary regime.

If the western-backed rebels managed to wrestle Syria, then Iran may feel that it is next on the regime-change agenda. Assad's departure would undermine Iranian influence in Lebanon, where it is closely allied with the dominant Shia Hezbollah. It would also have negative practical implications for Iran's alliance with Hamas in Gaza – where the Palestinians' stand-off with Israel is another potent war-trigger – and for its efforts to supersede Egypt and Turkey as the region’s leading power. The fall of Assad in Syria could prove to be a very dangerous moment across the Middle East. Rather than wait for an inevitable Israeli-US strike, Tehran could decide to retaliate first once it has nothing to lose.

Russia’s point of view regarding the situation in the Middle East:

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said that certain countries will do anything to retain the influence they have become accustomed to in the Arab world. Putin highlighted that western nations often adopt a one-sided policy in Arab affairs that violates international law, adding that only a diplomatic solution could lead to long-term peace and stability in the region.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov delivered a speech, in December 2012 at a foreign policy council, meeting to outline the Russia’s vision of the situation in the region, especially in Syria. Lavrov confirmed that Russia’s opposition to advancing democracy through iron and blood just does not work. Lavrov recalled the results of past attempts to use force by avoiding the UN Security Council, and expressed concern that some states are trying to make the Libyan model a precedent. Lavrov expressed worries saying: "At times of crises one is tempted to resort to military methods, some of our partners find these methods suitable". "No one knows in the end what will happen in the Middle East, including Syria", he added.

 The raised questions now are who is going to ignite the next war in the Middle East, and when? Will Israel resort to preemption?
Israel had lived for many years outside of immediate danger from the Syrian border, the UN broken truce had been observed. There had been no talk of chemical weapons getting into wrong hands and used against Israel. It’s the Syrian opposition who makes the situation so unstable. The West supported the opposition against pro-Western Mubarak. Now there is no more peace in Sinai like it used to be for so many years.

By supporting opposition everywhere the Arab Spring spreads, the West has contributed into making Israel face threats from all sides again. It’s not that the actors strive for the scenario to become a reality, but it could be sparked against their will by the events in Syria or the dexterity of policy conducted by those who stubbornly support the Syrian opposition they know so little about. The spark may lead to a major trouble that would have a lot of adverse consequences, like aggravating the Middle East chaos, cause severe global economic uproar and increased political volatility worldwide.

 

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