Syria’s ‘incompetence’ may be the tipping point

The view of Syria from the Golan Heights makes for a bleak picture

The view from the Golan Heights
On 14 November 2012 16:38

Yesterday I was standing on the Golan Heights, overlooking Syria.

The territory, captured by Israel following the conflict with Syria in 1967, is of key strategic value to Israel in ensuring its long-term security. Of significance is the UN contingent that polices a demilitarized zone between the two nations. From the precipice of the Golan, you can see two UN outposts, not all too far from where errant Syrian fire has hit in the past week.

Even though violence has flared up on the border in recent years, often at the behest of the Assad regime, rather than through any form of sporadic civilian engagement, these incidents have been the most serious since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, with Israel firstly firing warning shots, then targeting Assad regime units themselves.

In speaking to the Israeli sources yesterday, it became obvious that Israel regards the Syrian fire into Israeli territory as little more than incompetence – but that is not to say that the calculation is either true, or will remain true.

Assad’s desperation in seeking a distraction away from the reality of the civil war in Syria is by now surely giving rise to (more) irrational thinking. If he concludes that engaging Israel in the north, while Gaza continues to bombard the south, is to his benefit, then the Golan Heights will become the epicenter of Israel’s reaction and response. Luring Israel into larger scale retaliations could diffuse Assad’s internal problems as the Syrian people galvanise against the greater ‘Zionist enemy’. But it is highly unlikely.

Seemingly, Israel is alone in its position surrounding this escalating crisis. As much as a promised land has given to the Jewish people, it is indeed the proximity to terrorists and dictators that blights security for the young nation. Much as the Western World has failed in its duty towards Syrian democrats (complications and identifications aside), they are now also failing in their duty towards their ally in Israel.

The counter-argument, that Israel can look after itself, is quite the same as arguing that in the event of a Russian attack on British soil, the United States, France or other NATO allies should sit back and let the crisis play out, perhaps funding the British in part, rather than becoming fully involved themselves. This runs contrary to diplomacy and recent history of the Western world.

At this current time, the US administration has its own concerns. Obama’s promise of ‘more flexibility’ on the international stage following a second term is unlikely to come to fruition with the spotlight currently pointed inward. His issues surrounding Benghazi, General Petraeus, and a worsening economic situation means that he’ll either attempt to shine internationally in lieu of at home, or he’ll have to commit most of his second term resources putting out the fires he started or inherited in the first.

The rest of the international community we know could scarcely care less and Israel itself is currently doing battle on various front, as well as politically, internally. 

This leaves them high and dry.

But speculatively speaking, even Assad is probably not thick headed enough to think he can distract the Syrian people by engaging across borders. He will likely be all too busy to think about these matters, while he scraps to ensure that neither chemical weapons nor Syrian cities fall into the hands of his opposition.

But the skirmishes on the border do indeed present a game-changing scenario. With Israel more alert to the security of the 40,000+ population living in the Golan Heights, and wary of an opportunity to intervene on behalf of Syrian democrats, any more infractions could present a stark problem for Bashar Al Assad.

Many options come to mind, but what is being heard around most tables at the moment is that Syria does not belong as one nation. That it is a colonial throwback that would be far more stable and more representative as various different states. This is surely the only long-term outcome for the country.

In the meantime, it is worth mentioning what Suleiman Assad (Bashar’s grandfather) said of ‘the Jews’ in the region in 1936:

 “…Even today we see how the Muslim residents of Damascus force the Jews who live under their auspices to sign a document in which they are forbidden to send food to their Jewish brothers who are suffering from the disaster in Palestine [in the days of the great Arab rebellion], the situation of the Jews in Palestine being the strongest and most concrete proof of the importance of the religious problem among the Muslim Arabs toward anyone who does not belong to Islam. Those good Jews, who have brought to the Muslim Arabs civilization and peace, and have spread wealth and prosperity to the land of Palestine, have not hurt anyone and have not taken anything by force, and nevertheless the Muslims have declared holy war against them and have not hesitated to slaughter their children and their women despite the fact that England is in Palestine and France is in Syria.”

He goes on to explain why a fractured Syria could only be a bad thing for most actors in the region. Looking forward twenty years, it’s impossible to see how Syria in its current form could continue to exist without the threats leveled upon the population by tyrants and dictators. 

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam

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