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Jihadist Control at Israel’s Northern Borders Casts Shadow of War

Middle East power vacuums are fuel for war. A withdrawal of Assad’s army from across the Golan Heights, and fierce clashes between Hizbullah and Syrian rebels, threaten Israel on both northern fronts.
Israeli soldiers boarding a helicopter during the Second Lebanon War. August 12, 2006.

Israeli soldiers boarding a helicopter during the Second Lebanon War. August 12, 2006.
Photo Credit: Abir Sultan/FLASH90

Fierce clashes between Syrian rebels and Hizbullah at the Lebanese-Syria border, coupled with anarchy across from Israel’s Golan Heights, point to increasing chances of jihadist leaders taking control across the Israeli border from the Mediterranean Sea to the Golan.

Syrian soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have left the Golan region to back up the defense of Damascus against rebels, the London Guardian reported Sunday.

Mortar shell firing on the Golan Heights, initially errant but later followed by gunfire aimed at Israeli soldiers, have become more commonplace in the strategic mountainous area.

Syria occupied the Golan Heights before the Six-Day War in 1967. It never developed the area and never used it for anything else except as military posts to lob shells on Israel’s agricultural communities below.

Syria’s loss of the Golan to Israel, despite its nearly successful effort to retake it in the bloody Yom Kippur War in 1973, left Israel with a natural fortress of defense along with rich water sources. Every Israeli government since 1967 has encouraged development in the Golan, and more than half of the Golan Heights population now is Jewish. It is the home of major factories, including a winery with an international reputation, and a water bottling plant.

Unlike southern Israel, where the government and the IDF have played footsie with the Palestinian Authority and ensuing Hamas regime for more than 25 years, the IDF is quick to respond to any fire from Syria. The army fired guided missiles across the ceasefire line in the past two weeks.

The absence of the control of Assad, without any justification of his horrendous war crimes, has left Syrian rebels,  Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups in control of most of the area.

“We are seeing terror organizations gaining footholds increasingly in the territory,” IDF Chief of Benny Gantz said last week. “For now, they are fighting Assad. Guess what? We’re next in line.”

Israel can no longer count on the United Nations peacekeeping force to man the demilitarized zone between the Israeli and Syrian borders. Rebels have ambushed and kidnapped U.N. troops, and the United Nations last week admitted it has been forced to “adopt a posture which is somewhat more static.”

As The Wall Street Journal wrote Monday, “In other words, fewer patrols and observation posts.”

The newspaper quoted a report a month ago from the Washington Institute, which stated, “Jihadist tactical gains on the Golan and the bleak outlook for Undof [U.N. peacekeeping forces] are fueling concerns that the days of longstanding quiet along the border are numbered…. Undof’s dissolution or incapacitation would end [up] … turning the area into a ‘hot border’ where jihadists could challenge Israel and provoke retaliation – a dynamic not dissimilar to Lebanon.”

Baruch Spiegel, former IDF commander of the IDF liaison unit responsible for relations with peacekeeping forces, told the Journal, “We have never faced this situation, but we have to act very responsibly. But worst case scenarios can bring us worst case answers.”

The situation in Lebanon  is no better, if not worse. Ostensibly, the Lebanese government controls the country, but in reality, Hizbullah controls southern Lebanon. Sunni Muslims in control of Tripoli engage in violent clashes on a weekly, if not daily basis, in an effort to wage war against the government dominated by Hizbullah’s political party and pro-Syrian parties.

The fragile government fell last week, and the new prime minister, Tammam Salaam, is faced with the influx of nearly one million Syrian refugees, both pro and anti-Assad. He also operates in the shadow of  the Iranian-backed Hizbullah terrorist army, which had deployed itself alongside Assad’s forces.

Another bloody  clash on Sunday between Syrian rebels and Hizbullah left dozens of the terrorist army’s fighters wounded or killed, according to opposition sources quoted by the London-based Arabic language Al Asharq Awsat.

Throughout Lebanon, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim factions are in all-out war against each other, and as each side gains allies and weapons from Syrian, there are enough arms to blow up the country into a civil war that would make the 15-year civil war in the 70s and 80s look like a schoolyard brawl.

Hizbullah alone has been estimated to have more missiles than most governments in the world.

Toss in Iran, backing Hizbullah, and Saudi Arabia, supporting the Sunni factions. The ingredient of adaptive expectation – “ what do I have weapons for if not to use them” – makes the recipe explosive.

Pro-Syrian elements, probably Hizbullah, assassinated Lebanon’s intelligence chief and Sunni Muslim Brigadier Gen. Wissam al Hassan last October. He had helped organize weapons shipments to Syrian rebels.

Hizbullah and the anti-Syrian March 14th faction “will eventually bring the war to Lebanon,”  Farid Khazen, a Christian member of parliament and a political-science professor at the American University of Beirut, told the Journal.

The Sunni Muslims’ Jabhat al-Nusra  jihadist militia has taken the lead in aiding rebels and fighting Hizbullah.

A war between Al-Nusra and Hizbullah seems like a great idea – let each one kill the other –  but that is not the necessary conclusion.

“Sure one could say this is the equivalent of the movie Alien vs. Predator and we should be sitting back and munching on a bag of popcorn,” according to a Daily Beast article quoting Jonathan Schanzer, a scholar in Middle Eastern studies and vice president of research at the Washington D.C.-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “But we are looking at a fierce war that has left 70,000 people dead and more than a million as refugees and this isn’t going to make things any better; in fact, it will make things worse.”

The one-two punch of jihadists in control of the Syrian Golan and the almost certainty of civil war in Lebanon leaves Israel in a defensive position.

There is no justification now for a pre-emptive strike on Lebanaon or Syria, unless it is to eliminate chemical weapons.

But rival jihadists wanting to outdo the other always have the option of attacking Israel to show their loyalty to destroying the Jewish state.

If Israel is attacked, the IDF would have no choice other than to respond and face a worse stage – nothing unites rival jihadists more than the common “Zionist enemy.”

About the Author: Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu is a graduate in journalism and economics from The George Washington University. He has worked as a cub reporter in rural Virginia and as senior copy editor for major Canadian metropolitan dailies. Tzvi wrote for Arutz Sheva for several years before joining the Jewish Press.


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