August 16, 2006

Syria Moving on Golan Heights?


Jennifer Griffin of Fox News reported last Sunday that Syria has been moving an armored column closer to the Syrian border with the Golan Heights, and simultaneously removing Syrian land mines from the Golan Heights region. Those mines were laid following the disastrous 1973 Yom Kippur War with Israel, in an attempt to both deter Israeli forces from moving even closer to the Syrian border as well as to deter Israeli settlements in the region.

Assuming the story is accurate (with Fox News, who can tell?) there are only three reasons for Syria to unilaterally choose to remove those mines at this point -

1. They have such tremendous confidence in the cease-fire between Hezbollah and Israel that they are sure a new age of peace and cooperation is dawning upon the region, and they cannot wait to reap the rewards of peaceful coexistence with their Jewish neighbors

or

2. This is a big bluff move by Syria to throw Israel and the West off-guard

or

3. Syria plans to move a large number of Syrians through the region in the near future.

Assuming we discount option one as unrealistic and option two as transparent, with the sudden repositioning of an armored column near the border and the sudden removal of the land mines, one cannot help but wonder if Syria is looking at the Golan Heights longingly, yearning for their lost territory. Add in some ominous statements issuing from Iran, and Iran's looming deadline with the U.N., and option three looks more and more likely.

So here's my doomsday prediction, based on what I'm sure is my own faulty assessment of the situation:

Sometime on or around August 22nd, in a move supported by concurrent activity by Iran, Syria may attempt a lightning re-occupation of the Golan Heights. Capitalizing on the de-mobilization of the Israeli forces from Lebanon, the overall demoralization of the Israeli military following their perceived defeat in Lebanon, and counting on the pro-Arabic sentiment in both the Middle East and the U.N., Syria will try and retake some or all of the land they lost in 1967.

This would be a very bad idea, and unless Iran has a method of completely immobilizing Israeli forces, a move like this against Israel will once again prove disastrous for Syria.

It is understandable that Syria would wish to erase the humiliating defeats of '48, '67, and '73, and to discount the circumstances that led to those defeats as ancient history. Simultaneously, Syria is encouraged by Hezbollah's successful resistance, and perhaps believe the time is right for them to recover the Golan Heights with muscle and iron, having been so unwilling for so many years to follow Egypt's lead and trade Israel mere peace and recognition in exchange for their lost territory.

Regular readers of this blog will remember the cease-fire posting of a few weeks back where I suggested that anything less than a stunning tactical victory by Israel would leave the anti-Israeli forces in the region emboldened. Today Syria and Iran, as well as Hezbollah, each claimed victory and are very enthusiastic about what they deem to be the first Arabic defeat of Israel in modern times. Syria's President Assad went so far as to claim that Hezbollah's victory has "destroyed the U.S. plans for the Middle East."

Syria and Iran have likely been encouraged by what they believe is the humbling of the two mighty Middle Eastern military forces, the U.S. and Israel. If so, they have failed to understand what strategies have been successful for the terrorists, and why.

Both the U.S. forces in Iraq and Israeli forces in Lebanon have found that no matter how powerful their formalized national military may be, they are ill-suited to combat guerrilla insurgencies that can strike quickly and melt away into a civilian population. Arabic nations have very successfully disassociated their insurgent, terrorist factions from the sovereign governments that sponsor them, leaving the U.S. and Israel without a clear target upon which to bring their overwhelming forces to bear. Numerous small, disparate cells acting independently makes for a different type of war, and it's a war Israel and the U.S. have yet to figure out how to wage without causing unacceptable civilian casualties.

Should Syria misconstrue Israel's clumsy hesitancy against civilian/terrorist targets as an overall weakness and take provocative military action, Syria will make the error of providing Israel a national military target to fight. I assert that while Israel doesn't like fighting wars against their Arab neighbors, they have demonstrated that they are particularly good at it, regardless of how ineffective they may have been against Hezbollah. I suspect that other than peace, there's nothing Israeli forces would like more than a fair fight on terms they are both willing to abide by, and exceptionally adept at prosecuting.

Unwilling to match Hezbollah barbarity for barbarity, I suspect Syria will be unpleasantly surprised to find Israel is more than willing to match jet fighter for jet fighter, and tank for tank.

One must assume that Syria knows this as well, and they would never consider taking on Israel alone, face to face. So should Syria choose to act, they must be expecting that either Israel will be otherwise distracted, or unable to respond.

Which leads us back to the big question - does Iran have an August surprise in store?

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