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Monday, April 08, 2013

Syria abandoning the Golan to the jihadis?

For nearly 40 years, the most heavily armed border in the world - the border between Israel and Syria - has also been one of the quietest borders in the world, precisely because of the deterrent on the other side. Now, Syria has made the largest redeployment of its troops since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, deploying thousands of troops in and around Damascus and leaving the Golan to the rebel forces, many of whom are jihadis. Israel is deeply concerned.
Western diplomats said the Syrian redeployments near the Golan ceasefire line were the most significant in 40 years, with at least several thousand soldiers thought to have been moved in recent weeks to battle fronts closer to Damascus.
Rebel groups have moved into the vacuum, and Israel fears that jihadists will use the area as a staging ground for attacks on territory it controls.
Meanwhile, the United Nations observer force on the Golan Heights, Undof, finds itself in an ever more vulnerable position, with states whose peacekeepers comprise the mission known to be reconsidering their commitment, including the Austrians, who provide the largest individual contribution of troops.
"They [the Syrian government] have moved some of their best battalions away from the Golan," said a western diplomatic source of the Syrian changes. "They have replaced some of them with poorer-quality battalions, which have involved reducing manpower. The moves are very significant."
Separate media reports in Israel suggest the Syrian redeployments could amount to as many as two divisions – up to 20,000 soldiers.
"Undof is of the highest importance, now more than ever," said one senior Israeli government official. "We know some participant countries are having second thoughts and we're concerned about that. We are talking to them to try to understand what they plan on doing if the going gets rougher. We know some are hesitating, and it's a problematic situation.
"We are also talking to New York [the UN headquarters] about whether there could be a replacement in case one contingent pulls out. We don't envision a scenario in which Undof dissolves but we are very aware of the fragility of the situation."
...The former commander of the Israeli Defence Force liaison unit responsible for relations with peacekeeping forces, Brigadier General Baruch Speigel, said: "It's a very sensitive situation [with Undof]. It's important to find a mechanism to allow them to stay, but I'm not sure if it's possible because of the situation in Syria.
"If the UN is unable to fulfil its mission, this is a big, big dilemma. No one can tell you the bottom line. We have never faced this situation, but we have to act very responsibly. But worst-case scenarios can bring us worst-case answers."
'Peacekeepers' (UNDOF are actually officially known as 'observers')  can be effective for some period of time, but without a real peace, they cannot be effective forever. There has never been real peace between Israel and Syria, and if the jihadis are the ones who eventually depose Assad, there will not be any real peace for the foreseeable future. Israel will have to stand and fight on its own.

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