Establishing Israel-Controlled Buffer Zones in Southern Syria
Two security enclaves forming a buffer zone are being cut into southern Syrian territory along its borders with Israel and Jordan. It is part of the security plan the US, Israel and Jordan have charted, along with the impending deployment of 20,000 US soldiers in the kingdom of Jordan.
(See the lead story in this issue.)
The two enclaves will be designed to keep Assad’s soldiers and the rebel militias alike at bay from the borders of Jordan and Israel, and at a distance from the new US military force of 20,000 men which is due to take up position at King Hussein Air Base in Mafraq, at the intersection of the borders of Jordan, Syria and Iraq.
Israeli military and intelligence officers will establish, arm, fund and train local militias to police the two enclaves under their command.
The plan which has gained President Barack Obama’s nod was borrowed from the “Good Fence” buffer zone born of the Lebanese civil war of 1976. Israel then threw up a security fence along its border with Lebanon against Palestinian incursions and attacks and forged an alliance with Lebanese Christian Maronites. The South Lebanese Army – SLA – was formed to contend with their common foe, Yasser Arafat and his PLO.
Modeling Syrian enclaves on Israel’s old Lebanese buffer zone
Israel and the Maronites developed an alliance based on a system of give-and-take, whereby the latter fed Israel intelligence and helped hold armed Palestinian forces back from the Israeli border, in return for permits to work in Israel and the export of their farm produce through Haifa port.
Israeli physicians treated south Lebanese Christians at six medical stations set up along the “Good Fence” border.
In partnership with the 2,500 well-armed SLA, Israeli troops controlled the South Lebanese buffer region for two decades until 2000. It was then that Ehud Barak, Israel’s prime minister of the day, decided it was time to pull Israeli troops out of Lebanon and give up the buffer zone.
No sooner did the last Israeli soldier shake the dust of Lebanon off his boots, than the Good Fence border and its shared facilities buckled and the radical Shiite Hizballah moved in and took over.
The two security enclaves that Israel’s Defense Forces have begun carving out in Syria are based on the South Lebanese model.
The southernmost zone is situated at the southwestern tip of Syria and is enclosed by Jordan in the south and Israel in the west. As a barrier against a direct Syrian military or al Qaeda invasion of Jordan, it will also shield the US force to be deployed at Jordan’s Mafreq air base. Extending 45 kilometers deep into Syrian territory and 75 kilometers broad, it starts at a point south of Daraa and ends at the Jabel al-Druze mountain range.
At this point, the plan runs into an obstacle.
The Syrian Druzes must be won over
The Syrian Druze clans, a population of 180,000 scattered in 120 mountain villages, have dug their heels in against joining the revolt against the Assad regime. Their militias have at the same time closed their villages to both parties to the conflict, army and rebels alike.
It is hoped in Washington that Druze chiefs can be persuaded to join the buffer system by the presence of 20,000 US troops just across the border and the Israeli Air Force umbrella over an area that includes the Druze mountain strongholds.
The decision is up to one man, Walid Jumblatt, whose word for the Syrian Druze community is law.
If that community and its militia are added to the buffer zone mix, it will make the Israeli-controlled security zone in southeastern Syria too formidable and stable a strategic entity for Assad’s army to attack.
It might also become a catalyst for the breakup of Syria into self-governing sectors based on ethnic, religious and national groupings which refuse any longer to defer to Damascus.
But if the Druzes decide to stay aloof from the buffer project, the defense of the southern enclave will be that much harder.
The second security zone lies further north. When it is finally laid out, it will cover the 60-kilometer stretch of Syria's Golan border with Israel, and bring the Syrian town of Quneitra under Israeli control. (See the attached map).
This strip, about 30 kilometers wide, is home to 300,000 Syrians.
Israeli liaison officers at work in the two enclaves
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources disclose exclusively that the Israeli military has already posted liaison officers and forward medical and supply units in this area. IDF special forces positions are in battle array on the border ready to step in should a security emergency arise.
In both the security enclaves, Israel is handing out to rebel units, screened first for Islamist elements and willing to cooperate, supplies of weapons, money, intelligence, food and medical aid.
These militias file their requests with the liaison officers who relay them to the special headquarters Israel has set up on the Golan for pulling together the functioning of the two enclaves.
The Israelis try to fill all the requests either directly or through Jordanian military personnel.
Israeli military medical teams are working the security zones and referring the seriously ill or injured to the large military hospital the IDF has recently set up on the Syrian border or to hospitals in Israel.
The ultimate purpose of the emerging buffer zone system, as conceived by the US, Israeli and Jordanian governments, is to mold the various Syrian militias playing ball with the project into a single military force. Sustained by the three powers, that force should be capable of securing the two regions as a solid bulwark against the Syrian civil war’s spillover into its two southwestern neighbors.