Syria's war of nerves with Israel

Syria's war of nerves with Israel
2 min read
30 January, 2015
Analysis: Syria's reputation as a strong counterpoint to Israel has been blown apart during the country's civil war - now the regime's priority is simply its own survival.
The Golan Heights has been the scene of fighting in the Syrian civil war [AFP]

After four decades of relative calm on the Israel-Syria border in the Golan Heights, an Israeli airstrike which killed six Hizballah fighters and Iranian fighters more than a week ago has shattered the quiet.

On Wednesday, a brief clash on Israel's more volatile border with Lebanon with Hizballah militants left three dead.

A message passed to Israeli authorities, reportedly through the UN, made it clear that Hizballah was not interested in escalating the conflict further, and Israel appears ready to accept the "truce" offer.

After the calm

Hizballah's recent salvo on Israeli forces is likely to be a one-off attack for now, as its troops remain preoccupied with trying to crush the revolutionary forces and "jihadi" groups trying to overthrown the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus.

An unknown number of its fighters have been at war with Syrian rebel forces over the past three years. During this time, the Syrian-controlled areas of the Golan Heights have been taken over by the rebels.

The regime's army remains close by in Baath city, around 20km from the Israeli front lines. Besides Brigade 90, which lost the Golan territory to rebel forces including al-Nusra Front, Syria's military capabilities in the area are limited.

There are just two small reconnaissance units of the Syrian army, as well as the small Hattin brigade of the Palestine Liberation Army - made up of mostly Palestinian and Syrian fighters. The unit is not to be confused with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and is effectively a branch of the Syrian army with nominal independence.

     If Israel did launch an assault on Hizballah, then the Syrian regime would likely benefit.

Self-defeating war

The Syrian civil war has done much to discredit the regime's rhetoric about being on the front line of the war with Israel.

Hizballah won widespread respect in Arab countries for its war against Israel in 2006. Syria gained neighbourhood kudos for supplying Hizballah with weaponry.

The smuggling route for Hizballah's arms passed through the al-Masnaa area, not far from Damascus, although now weapons are said to pass through Shabaa. This route could be a future target of the Israelis.

If Israel did choose to launch future assaults on Hizballah, then the Syrian regime would likely benefit. Damascus might try to market itself as an ally of Hizballah and underline its credentials towards the Palestinian cause.

This would be particularly effective for the regime, whose image has been tarnished as a sectarian party - the Alawite ruling family is backed by Shia Hizballah and Iran.

Pressure on Syrian opposition forces would be eased as Hizballah fighters returned to fight in Lebanon, but it would lose the propaganda war as its foes would suddenly be seen as fighting the Israeli soldiers rather than Arab "revolutionaries".

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition