The Next Stage in Syria's War Is of Global Concern
The prospects of a Middle East regional war are on the rise due to the continued conflict in Syria, which has become a geo-political nightmare for neighboring countries. Lebanon, Jordan and Israel could be dragged into the Syrian blood bath because of sectarian violence spilling over borders.
President Bashar Assad’s forces are now fighting to gain the upper hand over Sunni rebels in the city of Aleppo. The recent fall of Tel Kalakh, a town that is only three kilometers from the Syrian border with Lebanon, helped consolidate Assad’s power over areas along the Mediterranean. He now has effectively established a presence around Homs, which links Damascus to the coast. This area is an Alawite stronghold that Assad wants to preserve, along with weapon supply lines between Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.
ISRAEL’S MILITARY PREPAREDNESS
On Wednesday, June 26, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was called to the northern front, not because of an actual war, but because of a surprise emergency drill conducted by the IDF. Netanyahu stated that the exercise was not just theoretical but preparatory because of the changing and unstable situation in Syria.
The drill, which involved the Golani Brigade, followed another military exercise in the north a few days earlier. Hundreds of soldiers, sailors, and airmen were involved in that routine war game which started in the Lower Galilee and continued on to the Golan Heights.
The northern drills follow a pull back by Golan Peacekeeping forces because of the Syrian conflict and fears that their lives may be in danger. The Philippines provide one-third of the UN peacekeepers, but military leaders have warned that they will withdraw from the Golan unless they receive heavy weapons. They want protection from potential attacks by warplanes, tanks and chemical weapons used in the Syrian war.
Meanwhile, Israel has deployed an advanced sensor system on the Golan to watch troop movements along its borders with Syria and Lebanon. Observation points, a situation room, radar and camera systems have been established in the area. This is all part of an IDF effort to complete a new fence in the north and have a state-of-the-art defense system in place to protect it from Syrian and Lebanese aggression. Despite the fact that the Golan Heights has been relatively quiet during the past few weeks, Israel remains on high alert.
THE BATTLE STAGES
Assad has begun to gain the upper hand in a two year bloody civil war that has turned into Shiite-Sunni sectarian violence and is now spreading throughout the region. What began as a citizen protest against Assad’s mostly Alawite government quickly moved into a second stage. Assad’s forces began fighting against a Sunni rebel opposition within Syria. Then, the rebels were joined by outside forces rushing to the battlefield from neighboring countries. Some of them were fighting on behalf of Sunni extremist groups with ties to Al Qaeda, the Moslem Brotherhood, Salafists and global jihadists. Assad started losing to these rebels on his home turf and asked for help.
Dependent on his Shiite allies, Assad was then joined in a third stage of the conflict by Iranian Revolutionary Guards stationed inside Syria, along with more than 5,000 Hezbollah militants who crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border to fight alongside his forces.
Today, Hezbollah continues to provide tactical support and training to Assad’s regime, while Iran supplies arms and training to keep his forces from losing the war. Russia, who has a vested interest in being a Middle East player, has continued its vast arms sales to Syria, and has been opposed to any Western intervention in the Syrian crisis.
The battle is entering a fourth stage now. Nations are lining up to either support Assad’s forces or opposition forces. Western powers are preparing to set up a no-fly zone, as well as arming the rebels in an effort to keep the balance of power from tipping toward Assad’s regime. Moscow and the U.S. are at odds with each other and remain on opposing sides of the conflict. Israel remains neutral but is preparing for clashes that could break out on the Golan Heights.
Assad’s allies include Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shi’a militias, along with the support of Russia.
The pro-rebel alliance consists of the U.S., Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE.
Moderate Arab nations that were once friendly toward Assad are now working actively against him. Sunni rebels are being funded by Saudi Arabia and Arab Gulf States that oppose Assad’s presence in a future Syrian government coalition.
Since Hezbollah in Lebanon began to send fighters to the Syrian battlefield, angry Arab leaders started sanctioning Hezbollah residents living in their nations. This has also been an effort to contain sectarian violence, which threatens Sunni Gulf monarchies.
Gulf leaders quietly admit that the fight against Assad is a way of weakening Iran’s power. They hope Iran will be pre-occupied sending more arms and manpower to help Assad on the Syrian battlefield. This is one way of distracting the Persian State from its underlying goal of destabilizing Sunni Arab countries through Shiite riots.
Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been the wild card in the Syrian conflict. He has helped the rebels, providing shelter and operational bases inside Turkey’s border towns. While continuing that effort to a smaller degree, he is also warning Western forces that they cannot use Turkish territory to enter Syria and establish a no-fly zone. Erdogan is worried that Russia will react angrily if Turkey continues to allow US and NATO weapons to pass through its border with Syria into the hands of Sunni rebels.
America and 17 other countries recently conducted a military exercise in Jordan close to the Syrian border. Once Erdogan closed his territory to Western forces, U.S. President Barack Obama chose Jordan as the site to be militarily prepared for a future Western response against Assad’s aggression. Obama has stationed more than 700 combat soldiers in Jordan along with an air and missile defense system. Jordan’s King Abdullah II has tightly sealed the 370 km border with Syria because of the U.S. Patriot batteries and fighter jets deployed there after the recent military exercise. Abdullah wants to be prepared in case the Syrian war spills over to Jordan./p>
Despite his political troubles at home, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has cut all diplomatic ties with Assad’s regime and is backing a Western-led no-fly zone over Syria. Morsi is demanding that Hezbollah get out of Syria. Sunni clerics in Egypt have issued a call for “jihad” against Assad’s regime.
The no-fly zone, if established, would be considered an act of war against Assad and his allies. But, Western and Arab Gulf nations do not want to see Assad continue to kill Syrian citizens and remain in power. Some U.S. leaders are calling for air strikes against Assad’s military bases, which, along with a no-fly zone, would hamper Iranian and Russian efforts to continue weapons deliveries to Assad. This is infuriating Russian President Vladimir Putin who insists that Russia will soon deliver the S-300 weapons system into Assad’s hands. This would make it impossible for Western countries to successfully maintain a no-fly zone.
Despite good relations with Israel, Putin has been informed that if he delivers the S-300’s to Assad, Israel will conduct a pre-emptive strike and take them out. For Israel, the S-300 advanced weapons system represents a game changer as it would limit Israel’s ability to defend its homeland.
A POSITIVE SPIN
If there is one silver lining in this Syrian war it is that the Sunnis and Shiites are busy fighting each other, and therefore not as much of a threat to others at this time. The war between them is taking precedence over a combined effort to fight Israel and the West. The Middle East has not yet reached its boiling point.
Hezbollah claims it wants the frontier with Israel to be quiet. However, if Syria sends more strategic weapons to Hezbollah; or, if Russia delivers the S-300 system to Assad’s regime; or, if Sunni rebels begin to act aggressively on the Golan Heights, then Israel can be expected to enter the fray. Until then, the IDF will continue to prepare its soldiers by conducting military drills on its northern border. Protecting Israel’s home front is an essential element of Israel’s defense forces because they are training for an uncertain future in this volatile region.
“Oh, that You would rend the heavens! That You would come down! That the mountains might shake at Your presence; as fire burns brushwood; as fire causes water to boil; to make Your name known to Your adversaries; that the nations may tremble at Your presence!” Isaiah 64:1-37
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.
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