As most media outlets are reporting, over the last month several errant mortars have been fired into Israel’s Golan Heights from Syria. The IDF has determined many of them can be traced back to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Showing restraint the Jewish state chose not to respond believing that the shells were not intended for Israel, but merely a product of fighting going on close to the border. Israel has now decided, however, intentional or not such attacks cannot go without response. Israel retaliated for the first time on Sunday firing a “warning shot” into Syria after a mortar shell landed near an Israeli military post. On Monday, Israel responded again to more mortar attacks with an Israeli tank firing into Syria. At least two Syrian soldiers were reported injured.
All this is good and well, and the fact that violence from Syria is beginning to spill over into Israel should be of concern. But it shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. Syria’s high command, and even Hezbollah’s, has already implied that it has no desire to get Israel involved in the Syrian struggle. Israel’s top military personnel have shared similar sentiments. It should continue to protect its border, provide violent deterrence when necessary, as it has started to do, and that’s it. Israel isn’t, and shouldn’t, get involved in a messy Syrian civil war over a few border skirmishes.
If one does want to play the theory game of what could potentially get Israel involved in the fight, one should start by looking to the Syrian rebels. Several months ago I asked a representative from the Syrian American Council, a U.S.-based delegation of Syrian ex-pats dedicated to helping the rebel movement, if the Syrian rebels would ever consider working with Israel to stop Assad’s bloodshed. The simple answer was no, and he stated that “Syrians do not consider Israel a friend.”
Since our talk, there is little reason to believe that answer has changed. It has actually probably grown more pronounced. There have been continuing trends in the style of warfare in Syria that suggest al-Qaeda, and other militants who fought in Iraq, are becoming involved with the Syrian rebels. Roadside bombs, suicide bombers, and car bombs are becoming more common place. That is what people who care about Israel should be concerned about. Who are these people? Assad will fall, whether it’s in five months or five years, it’s inevitable. The question is will the replacements require Israel to get involved? Right now the jury is out. One thing to keep in mind is Syria has the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East.