As the Syrian civil war continues, Israel’s security is on the line.
The fighting has spilled over into the Golan Heights region, including two stray missiles that crossed the border yesterday.
This week, rebel forces took control of Israel’s only border crossing with Syria, though Assad’s forces later recaptured it. The crossing is only used by UN forces and the local Druze population—which is split between Syria and Israel—and is part of the demilitarized zone along the nearly 40-year-old ceasefire lines.
Israel has emphasized that it does not want to be pulled into the conflict, but it has increased forces in the Golan Heights area in response to the developments, and reports have said that it’s launched several strikes in Syria to keep the terrorist group Hezbollah from gaining access to weapons.
More importantly, UN peacekeepers in the demilitarized zone were forced to retreat due to the fighting. This also led Austria, whose soldiers constitute approximately 35 percent of the peacekeepers, to remove its forces. Austria is the third country to pull out since the conflict started in 2011.
Russia offered to replace Austria’s forces, but was turned down by the UN, which said that protocol kept any permanent member of the UN Security Council from participating in peacekeeping missions.
While most Western leaders—including Obama—have called for the removal of Assad, Israel has abstained, as it understands the possible implications of a new regime. It might not like Assad, but it’s not hard to imagine a situation similar to Egypt, where the rebel forces are worse for Israel than the regime in power.
A Reuters analysis of the situation explained it well:
Bad news for Assad is generally seen as good news for Israel, which views him as the center of a network of enemies linking Iran to Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Hamas, the Islamist movement which controls the Gaza Strip.
“From a selfish Israeli point of view, what is happening in Syria is a huge positive development for Israel. This axis of radicalism is now broken,” said Amos Yadlin, head of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies.
But Israel also knows that its enemy’s enemy is not necessarily a friend.
“A complete victory by either side would not be an optimal situation,” said Uzi Rabi, head of the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle East Studies. “The current situation is in a way optimal for Israel … and it will most likely go on for months if not years.”
This is certainly a “sit and wait” situation where nothing monumental is happening right now, but where any small thing could turn into a major event.