Would an Israeli “Safe Zone” in Southern Syria change the strategic balance of terror?
Great reporting by Nour Samaha, below. A crucial article that wraps up where we are at on a number of trends that have been developing for some time. The bottom line, it seems to me, is that the race is on for Israel to push a strategy of assisting Hezbollah/Iran/Assad’s enemies in the Golan area in order to create a “buffer zone” – and for the push back to gather pace.
The core strategic problem is that this is not 1975 or 1982 (and lets remember that successive Israeli invasions designed to support such buffer zones ended in disasters, eventually). Technology and tactics have changed radically such that there is far less of a need for Hezbollah et al. to be literally on the border/Occupied Golan – indeed, the core strategic asset for the party, rocket and airborne technology, is no longer constrained much by distance.
Of course there are advantages, but there are also many disadvantages (perhaps the “softening” of Nusra we are now seeing will make it more acceptable for Israel to openly coordinate such a “safe zone” in the future with Nusra and other rebel groups). The core question then is: Will an Israeli “safe zone” be worth all the risk, given that it will likely do little – if it succeeds – to shift the balance of power between Israel and its enemies?
From her piece:
“…Kamal Al-Labwani, a Syrian opposition figure and strong advocate of the safe zone in southern Syria, has visited officials in Israel over the last two years. In his last visit in February, he noted a distinct change in tone within the Israeli decision-making circle.
“I was surprised that, at the Knesset, they said OK for the safe zone, and that if we asked for it, they are ready to help,” Labwani told Al-Monitor, adding that he met with several top-level officials and foreign diplomats to push forward the idea of safe zone.
Accordingly, in a meeting with the US ambassador to Israel, “He told me the Americans wouldn’t say no,” Labwani said, adding that when the proposal was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he “didn’t say no.”
According to Labwani, the proposed safe zone, approved by the Israelis, is supposed to run 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) deep into Syrian territory and approximately 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) along the border, starting just south of Hadar (a pro-government Druze village) to southern Quneitra, spanning over 17 villages, with a population of around 15,000 people.
He explained, “[The Israelis] said they would use their national security as a reason in front of the international community and that they want to protect their borders. Then the Jordanians and the Turks can do [their own safe zones], after the Israelis start it.”
The liaison unit first came to light in May 2016, with the purpose of coordinating humanitarian and medical aid for residents in southern Syria, in an effort to win over hearts and minds. The unit is reportedly based on Yakal, which was the Israeli unit created for south Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war as a mechanism to interact with Lebanese citizens and militias.
In 1975, at the start of Lebanon’s civil war, Israel began connecting with residents under what was dubbed the Good Fence Policy. According to Lebanese residents, Israel set up a network of collaborators and played up sectarian fears against the Palestinians. Within months, Israel created the Free Lebanon Army under dismissed Lebanese commander Saad Haddad. In 1980, when Haddad was old and sick, this force became the South Lebanon Army under Antoine Lahd. Its task was to target Israel’s enemies, Palestinians and Lebanese, and to pave the way for Israel’s invasion and subsequent occupation of south Lebanon.
A similar scenario seems to be taking shape in southern Syria 40 years later…”