Israel Must Stop Provoking Assad

The recent volley of aggressive Israeli rhetoric is reflective of a one-dimensional attitude towards dealing with Syrian tensions - and is entirely unhelpful in preventing any future escalation.

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The tensions between Israel and Syria have risen in recent weeks, but have yet to blow up. The ruler of Syria, President Bashar Assad, is occupied in a war of survival and has no interest in opening another front. But now, as if to inflame the atmosphere and drag the region into conflict, alongside the aggressive actions attributed by foreign media reports to Israel, come unnecessary words.

Assad is not interested in setting the region on fire. He understands that Israel is stronger than Syria − in the air, in armor and in all other military components − and that is why he has shown restraint over the alleged attacks by the Israel Air Force inside his country and even on the outskirts of his capital Damascus. But statements in the foreign press attributed to senior Israeli officials damaged his pride, compelling him to threaten that he would respond to the attacks on missile convoys en route to Hezbollah.

Assad is careful not to attack the Israeli home front with ground-to-ground missiles. His response so far has been limited to firing on an IDF patrol along the Separation of Forces Line on the Golan Heights. Israel annexed the Golan in 1981, but no one in the world recognized this annexation. In negotiations between two generations of the Assad family and Israeli prime ministers ‏(Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert‏) there was no doubt that Israel would withdraw from the present lines. The dispute was over the depth of the withdrawal. In Assad’s view, influenced by the fact that the Golan is territory annexed forcibly by Israel, the attack by light arms on an IDF patrol on the Golan is a proportional response to the bombing deep inside Syria.

But Israel is not interested in the complexity of the Syrian situation. Its one-dimensional and official position on the fire directed at an IDF jeep was expressed on Tuesday by IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who said: “Assad must suffer the results if the situation on the Golan deteriorates.” Beyond the fact that such hostile statements do not contribute anything, and may even go beyond the role of the chief of staff, Gantz, like the entire top brass of the IDF, is ignoring Israel’s large share in the deterioration of the situation.

The attack deep in Syrian territory disappears in the aggressive rhetoric and is not seen as a central part of the equation. Israel cannot attack within the area of another sovereign state, yet at the same time accuse the state it supposedly attacked of causing the situation to deteriorate when that state responds.

Israel has no interest in becoming entangled in a civil war in Syria, nor, it may be, with Iran and Hezbollah. Verbal provocations only inflame the tensions, and another attack on Syria may well lead to an unnecessary war. It would be appropriate for the government to apply sober judgment and avoid unnecessary goading.

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz on patrol of the Syria-Israel border, May 21, 2013.Credit: IDF Spokesman

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