Israeli involvement in the Syrian Civil War
|Israeli involvement in the Syrian Civil War|
|Part of Iran–Israel proxy conflict and Foreign Involvement in the Syrian Civil War|
|Commanders and leaders|
Israeli involvement in the Syrian Civil War, or Israel's role in the Syrian Civil War refers to the political stance, military incidents and humanitarian help of Israel on the course of the Syrian Civil War. While the Israeli official position is neutrality in the conflict, Israel is opposed to Iran's involvement in the war. Israel's military role in the war has been limited to missile strikes, which until 2017 were not officially acknowledged. The Israeli air campaign in Syria is officially termed Operation Chess.
Israel provided humanitarian aid to Syrian war victims from 2013 to September 2018, an effort that drastically ramped up since June 2016 when the Operation Good Neighbour was launched by the Israeli military.
There are many different national interests playing a role in the war. One of them is Iran, which Israel is concerned could gain too much regional influence. Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah are suspected of carrying out attacks against Israeli positions on the borders to Syria and Lebanon, and Israel is carrying out air strikes against convoys transporting weapons to such organisations.
Israel and Syria have never established diplomatic relations. Syria and Israel have technically been in a state of war since 1948. Since the creation of both states in the mid-20th century, the countries fought three major wars: the 1948 Arab Israeli War, the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Both countries were later also involved in the Lebanese Civil War, including the 1982 Lebanon War.
Prior to the 1967 Six-Day War, there were intense hostilities centered on the Demilitarized Zones, water issues and both shelling and infiltration from the Golan Heights, which then were occupied by Israel. The requirement of returning the territories occupied by Israel was enshrined in UN Security Council Resolution 242; but the situation was further cemented by Syria's largely unsuccessful 1973 Yom Kippur War, with the de facto border between the countries in 1974 reverting to the 1967 ceasefire line, which has largely been respected by both sides, though violated by Hezbollah.
A series of incidents had taken place on the Israeli–Syrian ceasefire line in the initial phase of the Syrian Civil War, straining the relations between Israel and Syrian Arab Republic. The incidents are considered repercussions of the Quneitra Governorate clashes since 2012 and later incidents between Syrian Army and the rebels ongoing on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan and the Golan Neutral Zone, and the Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Through the incidents, which began in late 2012, as of mid-2014, one Israeli civilian was allegedly killed and at least 4 soldiers wounded; on the Syrian-controlled side, it was estimated that at least two unidentified militants were killed, who attempted to penetrate into Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights.
In early July 2017, Israel's defence minister Avigdor Liberman said that while ″the rebels are not our friends, they are all versions of al-Qaida", Israel could not allow a man like Assad to remain in power: “Keeping Assad in power is not in our security interests. As long as he is in power, Iran and Hezbollah will be in Syria.” He said that Israel had no interest in entering the Syrian civil war, but there were ″red lines″ Israel had set, such as the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and Iran's presence on its borders. Later in July 2017, the Israeli government said it opposed the cease-fire agreement in southern Syria that the United States, Russia, and Jordan had reached a week prior that envisaged establishing de-escalation zones along Syria's borders with both Jordan and Israel, as that would legalise Iran's presence in Syria.
In October 2017, defense minister Lieberman, speaking to an Israeli media outlet, conceded that Bashar al-Assad was winning the war and was now being courted by foreign powers, which he said was ″unprecedented″. The statement was said to have "marked a reversal for Israel, where top officials had from the outset of fighting in 2011 until mid-2015 regularly predicted Assad would lose control of his country and be toppled". He called for the U.S. to be more active ″in the Syrian arena and in the Middle East in general″ and noted that Israel was struggling to deal with the "Russians, Iranians, and also the Turks and Hezbollah."
Israel's opposition to Iranian presence in Syria
On 9 July 2017, a new ceasefire agreement directly brokered by the United States and Russia for southwest Syria was announced. United States and Russia have made multiple attempts in the past to reach an agreement for establishing a ceasefire in different parts of Syria. However, the earlier ceasefire attempts have either collapsed or failed to reduce violence for long. United States President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin reached the agreement during their meeting at the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, on 7 July 2017. It affects towns, villages and borderlands in three regions close to Jordan and Israel. The deal includes establishing de-escalation zones, otherwise known as safe zones, along Syria's borders with both Jordan and Israel. The talks on the details of the agreement are still continuing.
Israel opposed the ceasefire agreement, as it claimed that its security interests were not reflected in the draft ceasefire agreement being formulated. "It doesn't take almost any of Israel's security interests and it creates a disturbing reality in southern Syria. The agreement doesn’t include a single explicit word about Iran, Hezbollah or the Shi’ite militias in Syria.” Israel reportedly held secret talks with Russia and the United States over the ceasefire agreement. Israel stressed on the importance of removing Iranian "forces" from Syria. However, Israel was disappointed as the agreement "contradicted virtually all the positions Israel had presented to the Americans and Russians."
Israel's main concern with regard to the ceasefire agreement is that of increasing Iranian influence in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Russian President Vladimir Putin in August 2017 to share Israel's concerns on the ceasefire agreement. "Mr. President, with joint efforts we are defeating Islamic State, and this is a very important thing. But the bad thing is, that where the defeated Islamic State group vanishes, Iran is stepping in," he told the Russian Prime Minister. Russia has assured Israel that it will deter Iran or Hezbollah from opening a new front with Israel. “We take the Israeli interests in Syria into account,” Alexander Petrovich Shein, Russia's ambassador to Israel, told its Channel One television on Tuesday. “Were it up to Russia, the foreign forces would not stay”, he added. A delegation, led by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, visited Washington for talks with senior White House and American defence officials. One of the main issues for the discussion was the ceasefire agreement in southern Syria and its ramifications. "A senior Israeli official said the delegation was expected to try to persuade senior administration officials that parts of the cease-fire agreement in southern Syria should be amended to include clearer statements about the need to remove Iranian forces, Hezbollah and Shi'ite militias out of Syria". However, the high level delegation was unable to "secure a commitment from the Americans to ensure any agreement to end the war in Syria would include the evacuation of Iranian military forces from the country".
Following the exchange of fire on 10 May 2018, Israeli defense minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel won't allow Iran to turn Syria into a "forward base" versus Israel.
Border incidents during the Syrian Civil War
Several incidents have taken place on the Israeli–Syrian ceasefire line during the Syrian Civil War, straining the relations between the countries. The incidents are considered a spillover of the Quneitra Governorate clashes since 2012 and later incidents between Syrian Army and the rebels, in the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan and the Golan Neutral Zone and the Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian Civil War. Through the incidents, which began in late 2012, as of mid-2014, one Israeli civilian was killed and at least 4 soldiers wounded; on the Syrian-controlled side, it is estimated that at least ten soldiers were killed, as well as two unidentified militants, who were identified near Ein Zivan on Golan Heights.
Iran–Israel conflict during the Syrian Civil War
On several occasions, Israel reportedly carried out or supported attacks on Hezbollah and Iranian targets within Syrian territories or Lebanon. One of the first reliably reported incident of this kind took place on 30 January 2013, when Israeli aircraft struck a Syrian convoy allegedly transporting Iranian weapons to Hezbollah. Habitually, Israel refused to comment on the incident, a stance that is believed to seek to ensure that the Syrian government did not feel obliged to retaliate.
More incidents were attributed to IAF on May 2013, December 2014, April 2015. Some of those reports were confirmed by the Syrian Arab Republic, whereas others denied. Israel systematically refused to comment on alleged targeting of Hezbollah and Ba'athist Syrian targets in Syrian territory. In 2015, suspected Hezbollah militants launched a retaliatory attack on Israeli forces in Shebaa farms. In March 2017, Syria launched anti-aircraft missiles towards Israeli-controlled part of the Golan Heights, allegedly targeting Israeli IAF aircraft, which Syria claimed were on their way to attack targets in Palmyra (Syria). After the incident, the State of Israel has stated it was targeting weapons shipments headed toward anti-Israeli forces, specifically Hezbollah, located in Lebanon. Israel denied Syria's claim that one jet fighter was shot down and another damaged. Israel has not reported any pilots or aircraft missing in Syria, or anywhere else in the Middle East following the incident. According to some sources, the incident was the first time Israeli officials clearly confirmed an Israeli strike on a Hezbollah convoy during the Syrian Civil War. As of September 2017, this was the only time such confirmation was issued.
By early December 2017, the Israeli air force had confirmed it had attacked arms convoys of Ba'athist Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah nearly 100 times during within over six years of the conflict in Syria.
Israeli humanitarian aid to Syrians
In June 2016, from the territory of the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967 and annexed in 1981, the Israeli military began Operation Good Neighbor, a multi-faceted humanitarian relief operation to prevent starvation of Syrians who live along the border and provide basic or advanced medical treatment.
The aid consisted of medical care, water, electricity, education or food and was given to Syrians near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, often escorted across by Israeli soldiers. Over 200,000 Syrians received such aid, and more than 4,000 of them were treated in Israeli hospitals from 2013 to September 2018. Many of the treated victims were civilians, often children. Allegations have been made that some were rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army. This theory is supported by the claim that Israel had a strategic interest in aiding the rebels; they fought against both ISIL and Iranian-allied forces.
In 2016, Israeli professor Anthony Luder said: “Some Syrians, before they go back to Syria, tell us: 'We will come back and slaughter you all'. In 2017, an Israeli documentary film, dubbed "The wounded Syrian", was released. The film's director, Racheli Schwartz, claimed in an interview that "few hate-filled people who, even after saving their lives, curse and act violently until the nurses need the protection of security personnel".
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