The four Syrian mortar shells exploding on the Israeli side of the Golan Saturday, March 2, flashed a signal to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu that the moment is at hand to step in and decide how to dispose of the expanse of southern Syrian bordering on northern Israel. This urgency sent Defense Minister Ehud Barak flying to Washington Friday March 1, to meet new US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel next Tuesday.
At the top of their agenda for discussion this time will not be Iran but, debkafile’s military sources report, the disappearance, except for scattered military units, of Bashar Assad’s ruling presence and army from the Syrian areas abutting on Israel and Jordan. The collapse of Assad’s defense lines on these two borders generates a new strategic situation of major import.
Most Israelis, including their media, are too deeply engrossed in the ins and outs of Netanyahu’s struggle to form a coalition government to notice that a no man’s land has opened up on the Syrian Golan, the Horon province (where the Syrian uprising first erupted two years ago), and the Yarmuk River dividing Syria from Jordan.
At the same time, the Assad army is all but gone from there and the Syrian rebels are constrained from moving into the abandoned territory by three considerations:
1. They are short of the manpower for seizing and holding it;
2. Their commanders have evidently not caught onto the brilliant international, strategic opportunity waiting to drop in their laps;
3. The Druze community in their mountain fortresses overlooking the territory is poised to prevent any outsider takeover.
Israel is confronted with a choice between leaving the long-menacing areas overlooking the Sea of Galilee and its north-eastern regions to an unknown fate – or asserting control itself.
At this point, Israel’s armed forces still have three options:
a) Directly capturing dominant points in those no-man’s land areas as guarantees of a say in who eventually dominates them.
b) Military support for a Druze land grab.
c) Military collaboration with Jordan to control the fate of the abandoned lands abutting both their borders.
There is still time to pre-empt developments that would be detrimental to Israel’s security: One such development would be a deal being reached on how to dispose of the abandoned territory between the Assad government and Syrian opposition in the talks opening in Moscow Tuesday, March 5.
This deal would open the door for ensconcing on the Israeli border Muslim extremists, such as the pro-Al Qaeda factions fighting with the Syrian rebels.
Barak’s mission to Washington is to align Israel-US positions on these and other urgent topics with the new US defense secretary. debkafile’s Washington sources are skeptical about his chances of success in view of the Obama administration’s decision to pass the resolution of the Syrian question to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
This leaves the initiative up to Netanyahu. He has shown exceptional skill of late in ducking clear decisions on such matters. However, indecisiveness at this moment could cost Israel dear in the future.