Risks and Restraint in the Golan Heights

As fighting in Syria occasionally leaks across the border, Israel must not make hasty decisions.

It has been more than two years since the start of the uprising in Syria, and President Bashar Assad has managed to survive. Iran, Hezbollah and to a great extent Russia are helping him, each for its own reasons. Meanwhile, the countries opposing him are split in their goals and willingness to use harsher means such as supplying arms, imposing a no-fly zone or even actively fighting him.

Israel isn't Syria's main front abroad. The four other countries bordering it - Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq - have more complex problems like refugees, weapons transfers and support for one of the sides; the latter increases the risk of escalation. Following the reconciliation between Jerusalem and Ankara, a pragmatic alliance could arise between Turkey, Jordan, Israel and certain NATO members to protect against the dangers inherent in the Assad regime's death throes.

The greatest of these dangers is the use of chemical or biological weapons (or ground-to-ground missiles armed with conventional warheads) against a neighboring country, or the transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah. Assad knows - he has been warned - that he is playing with fire and may even risk his head if he dares to use these weapons or transfer them to others.

Other dangers - as experienced by Israel and Turkey - are border flare-ups and a leakage of the fighting between the Syrian army and the rebels. Another is a direct attack by Global Jihad groups that are part of the loose rebel alliance.

In either case, the outcome on the Israeli side would be similar - the danger that soldiers or civilians would be harmed.

This could draw a response and undermine the cease-fire that has prevailed in the Golan Heights since June 1974, when the separation-of-forces agreement was signed and overseen by UN observers.

So far Israel has responded wisely with firm but restrained signals. It hasn't held back entirely, but it hasn't gone overboard with retaliation. The government and General Staff must ensure that this policy is maintained.

They must make sure that no hasty decisions are made at command headquarters, the Prime Minister's Office or the Defense Ministry - decisions that could sweep Israel into a larger and unnecessary conflict.