Mideast War Fears: Israel versus Syria Again?

14 Aug

As the summer of 2007 wears on, talk of yet another Arab-Israeli War stirs concerns for the region’s stability.  Israel and Syria have fought four major wars against each other since 1948, along with numerous border clashes and airstrikes.  Israelis (and the U.S. government) consider much of Israel’s warfare in Lebanon against the Palestinians and Hezbollah over the past 30 plus years to have been proxy warfare sponsored by the Syrian Baathist regime in Damascus.  Add to the mix the fact that many of the foreign Islamist militants engaged against American and Coalition forces in Iraq receive some sort of assistance and safe harbor in Syria.

One year ago this summer, Israel fought a fruitless war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Syria, and Syria’s wealthy ally, Iran, supported Hezbollah in that war, and it is believed that elements of the Syrian government are attempting to push their nation into war with Israel.

A little background will help here:

In 1948, Israel declared independence, becoming the world’s only Jewish state in the territory formally known as the British Mandate in Palestine.  The Arabs living in Palestine (who are now known as Palestinians), did not like the idea of living in a Jewish nation, and the Arab nations surrounding Israel/Palestine also disliked the idea of Jews having their own country in land they considered Arab territory.  Thus, in May of 1948, (only three years to the month after the end of the Nazi genocide of Jews called the Holocaust), six Arab nations invaded the new-born state of IsraelSyria was one of those invaders.  When the war reached an end (a truce took hold, really), the Syrians returned across their own border.  Though the two nations did not fight a major war against each other for another 19 years, many border clashes took place. (see Arab-Israeli Border Wars and Incidents

Then, in 1967, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt (with aid and approval from the Soviet Union), planned an attack on Israel.  On June 6, 1967, Israel struck first, devastating the military power of all three Arab neighbors, as well as decimating the Iraq Air Force on the ground.  Out of this quick Six-Day War, Israel seized the Golan Heights, a plateau that overlooked lower ground in neighboring Israel.  The Israelis decided to keep the Golan Heights to prevent the Syrian military from using it as a base for further attacks on Israel.  This has been a point of contention between the hostile neighbors ever since, as Syria wants its territory back, and Israel continues to distrust the dictatorship in Damascus.

The last major clash between Israel and Syria came in 1982, when Israeli forces invaded Lebanon, intending to destroy the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) of Yassir Arafat.  Syria at the time, had tens of thousands of troops and large numbers of anti-aircraft missile batteries in Lebanon, part of a force that had intervened in the long Lebanese Civil War.  As Israeli forces advanced into Lebanon, tank battles between the American-made Israeli tanks and the Soviet-made Syrian tanks ensued, with the Syrians taking heavy losses.  Syria also lost one hundred warplanes over the skies of Lebanon in a large air battle with the Israeli Air Force.  The Israelis also wiped out many Syrian anti-aircraft batteries. 

For the remainder of Israel’s Lebanon War (which ended with an Israeli pullout in 2000), and also during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, Syria contented itself with supporting Israel’s Lebanese foes, rather than engaging in open combat.

By the summer of 2007, Israeli forces were working feverishly to upgrade their abilities in light of a poor showing in the 2006 war, while at the same time, Syria’s military was rearming with new Russian-made weapons.  There are those who believe that General Asef Shawkat, the head of Syrian Intelligence, and the brother-in-law of Syrian President Bashar Assad, is pushing for a war with Israel.

A new Arab-Israeli War would be problematic, not in the least because there is no guarantee that Israel and its military would win, or even put in a decent showing.  Israel’s poor performance in the Second Lebanon War of 2006, and the relative weakness and military naivete of Israeli Prime Minister Olmert may embolden some in Syria’s government that Syria might be able to force Israel to give up the Golan through force.  Few believe that Israel could be pushed off the Heights, but a good showing by Syria, especially if they can inflict heavy casualties on Israel, may force Jerusalem to the bargaining table.  After all, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat launched the 1973 October War (alongside Syria), and did end up negotiating a return of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula from Israel.  It is not inconceivable that Assad may be thinking along those same lines.  Also, Israel can look at history as well, and see that an attack may be coming (or think that an attack is coming) and launch a pre-emptive strike ala 1967. 

And how many thousands will die, be maimed, be made homeless if war does come?  Only God (whether you call him Jehovah, Christ, or Allah), knows for sure. 

Syrian general mulling war with Israel–, Aug. 14, 2007

War Clouds over the Golan –By P. David Hornik, Aug. 15, 2007

Israel and Syria seek to calm war fears–, Aug. 14, 2007

Israel eyes Syria’s growing military–United Press International, Aug. 13, 2007 


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  1. Brian

    March 5, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    Good work, keep it up 😉