Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Arlene Kushner on The Evolving Situation in Syria and Implications for Israel

From Arlene Kushner:
June 11, 2013

"Slogging Along"

Not sure where we're going, but...

Signs in Syria right now suggest either an ultimate Assad victory -- which is what Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz is suggesting: Assad may prevail in Syria's civil war -- or a dividing of the country with Assad's Alawites in control of a portion of the country (and Sunnis and Kurds likely dividing up the rest).

I wrote last about Syrian encroachment towards Quneitra and Israel's border.  Two things have evolved in this context.

First, Israel sent a warning to Assad not to move tanks into the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria that was established in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War.  Assad sent a message back, via a third party, that his troops were there only to go after rebels.  He had no intention of attacking Israel and asked that Israel not respond.

This, then, remains Assad's position: he has no desire to tangle with Israel when he's still deeply immersed in fighting the civil war.  This caution, of course, does not prevent him from saber rattling, so that he also warns that of a "strategic response" to Israel and yesterday, according to the Lebanese paper, Al-Akhbar, he said he is serious about opening up a Golan front. , 


What has also happened, is that the UN force in that demilitarized zone -- the UN Disengagement Observer Force, UNDOF -- is falling apart.  Austria has decided to pull out its 380 troops, the single largest contingent in the force, and UN Secretary General Ban is scrambling to find replacements. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu took this opportunity to make the point, at Sunday's Cabinet meeting, that Israel must rely on herself and cannot depend on international troops for security.

But we really don't have to consider this situation for the point to be made: This is a given, in light of a long history of failures of UN troops.  The most egregious situation, in my opinion, involved UNIFIL -- the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which was reinforced in 2006, when the war with Hezbollah ended.  According to UN Security Council Resolution 1701, this force was supposed to prevent the rearming of Hezbollah via armaments smuggled from Syria.   

Today Hezbollah has more rockets, and better, than before the war.  I remember reading a report in which an officer with UNIFIL said they weren't seeing any reinforcements coming across the border from Syria. But then he also indicated that there were no missions sent out at night. Duhh.  You think just maybe that's when the smuggling took place?  The motto for these troops seems to be "Look nice and avoid danger."  Or perhaps, "Pretend to be doing the job, but favor Arab states when it's possible."


National Security Advisor Maj. Gen. (res.) Ya'akov Amidror has written a briefing for the JCPA on "The Risks of Foreign Peace Keeping Forces in the West Bank":
"UNIFIL in southern Lebanon is more prone to intervene against Israeli self-defense operations than against acts of aggression by Hezbollah."
Read: The Risks of Foreign Peacekeeping Forces in the West Bank

Ya'akov Amidror
Credit: TimesofIsrael


Netanyahu referred to UNDOF now to emphasize that Israel will never rely on international forces:  Kerry, looking for ways to restart the "peace process," recently proposed that perhaps international forces might replace Israeli forces in the Jordan Valley, if a state were to be established.  Nothing doing, he's saying -- and he will raise this issue with Kerry in the future.


But Kerry, it has now been announced, will not be coming here this week, as had been planned.   

Some sources are saying that he's remaining in Washington to participate in high level talks on Syria (about which, more below).  

Read: Kerry postpones Israel visit

While other sources are indicating that he wants to give Abbas more time to drop its pre-conditions for negotiations.

Read: Kerry delays Middle East trip to give Abbas more time


Those conditions are familiar to all of us: Freezing all building beyond the Green Line, acknowledging the '67 line as the basis for negotiations, etc.

Netanyahu calls preconditions an "impassable obstacle."

But this doesn't deter our "peace partners."  The PLO just renewed its call for "right of return"  -- to which Israel has responded that this is contrary to the whole notion of "two states for two people," which would mean "refugees" going to the Palestinian state.

And there's more, this time from Jabil Rajoub -- former head of the West Bank Security Forces under Arafat, and currently a member of Fatah Central Committee and chairman of the Palestinian Football (Soccer) Association.  In an interview on an Arab channel, regarding an upcoming visit to the area by the famous Barcelona Football Club, he was asked if the team would also visit the "occupied" lands.  

His response: 
"They are coming to the occupied lands. All of Palestine - from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea [i.e., all of Israel] - it's all occupied."
Palestinian Media Watch picked this up.

Read: Senior PA official: "All of Palestine - from the river to the sea - it's all occupied"

Kerry is even dimmer than I already think he is, if he returns to this area any time soon in an attempt to get those talks moving.


As to the demand for a building freeze...

Netanyahu has now said that construction in communities in Judea and Samaria will continue, "and continues today...we need to realize what is going on around us. We have to be smart about it, not just correct.  Settlement in the blocs wouldn't substantively change the ability to reach an agreement, the real question is whether or not there is a will to recognize the Jewish State." 

Read: PM: Construction in West Bank settlements continues

And indeed, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics figures show housing starts in Judea and Samaria rose significantly in the first three months of 2013 compared to the same period last year,

Read: Official figures show spike in settlement construction



Yesterday, Israel Army Radio, drawing on data from the Housing and Construction Ministry, reported that since the beginning of 2013 not one apartment has been marketed beyond the Green Line in Jerusalem.  Israel Lands Administration sources indicated that the Prime Minister's Office was directly delaying marketing of plots for housing in eastern Jerusalem. 

To this, Avigdor Lieberman, head of Yisrael Beitenu and chair of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, responded:
"One should view this as a temporary hiatus. We have an interest in Kerry succeeding. You don't always have to be right; you can also be smart." 
Read: Lieberman acknowledges East Jerusalem settlement freeze: We want Kerry to succeed

His observation that "you don't always have to be right; you can also be smart," is too close to Netanyahu's "we have to be smart about it, not just correct," to be a coincidence.  Enough said, here.

This information is not really news -- we knew it.  What I wonder about is the dynamics of a situation in which building in a portion of our united -- never again to be divided -- capital is frozen by Netanyahu, while he crows about building that is going on in Judea and Samaria. 

Maybe I'm looking for logic when there isn't any.  Maybe it's just that Kerry whispered in Netanyahu's ear that this is what might have the strongest impact on Abbas.  


Now as to Syria, and US policy there.  There had been talk about enforcing a no-fly zone, and that was rejected.  Then it was decided that rebels would be "vetted" -- to rule out the more radical elements -- and "lethal" armaments that would help them to take down the Assad regime would be provided to them.  

Today, however, we're hearing that an immediate policy assessment is being called for because the rebel movement has become increasingly fragmented.  One problem, then is that it's close to impossible to weed out the radicals and provide assistance with any assurance that it will go only to relatively secular, moderate rebels -- or to identify the rebel group with the strength that might allow them to succeed.

In addition, the fragmentation has weakened the rebels. The American administration is alarmed by the turning point in the civil war, which means that even if they determine to whom to send the weapons, it may be too late.  Having taken Quasyr, Assad is now projecting a "major offensive" in the coming days, with the goal of fully taking Aleppo,  Syria's largest city, it is currently held by a mix of government loyalists and different,  Some 5,000 Hezbollah fighters have now surrounded the city.  

There is an expressed US concern about supply routes to get the weapons in, and time for training so they can be effectively used.  

Anthony Cordesman, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, is cited by the JPost as saying, "Assad has established a relatively secure corridor along the Lebanese border...When you start actually drawing the map, you see what rebel-held really means, and it's very sketchy." 


Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has accused the Obama administration of "fiddling while Syria burns."  And indeed, indecisiveness is the mark of this administration.  On Syria, Obama missed the boat.

Read: White House reassesses arming Syria rebels


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner , functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.  

If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.

See my website at www.arlenefromisrael.info  Contact Arlene at akushner18@gmail.com

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