By Gareth Porter
A portion of Golan is currently occupied by Israel, which took it from Syria in 1967. It was annexed by Israel in 1981 and populated with Israeli settlers roughly equal in numbers to its original Syrian population.
Israel has expressed the fear that Syria’s recent moves could threaten Israel’s occupation in Golan. IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot declared in January that Israel “can’t ignore the fact that Hezbollah, the Shiite militias and Iran perceive themselves on the winning side in Syria, together with Bashar Assad, and share his desire to return to the Golan Heights.”
Israeli officials have expressed a determination to establish de facto Israeli control in what they have called a “buffer zone” or “safe zone” covering much of the Syrian Golan.
Israel had already begun laying the groundwork two years ago by arming anti-Assad opposition groups only to see much of their progress reversed by more recent Syrian military advances. The buffer zone objective will certainly require a growing number of Israeli military operations to push back against Syrian and Shiite militias in that area.
Israeli ambitions are not limited to the Syrian Golan. The IDF is determined to penetrate more deeply into Syria in order to limit Iranian and Hezbollah freedom of action there.
The long-term military aim, as IDF Chief Eizenkot declared in his January speech, is to “push the Iranians back to Iran.”
More concretely, Israeli officials are committed to preventing Iran from establishing a land corridor connecting Tehran to Lebanon and the Mediterranean through Iraq and Syria.
That aim has already led to at least 100 Israeli air strikes against hundreds of targets in Syria since January 2013, including convoys carrying arms to Lebanon, weapons storage sites and Hezbollah targets. Netanyahu told NATO ambassadors in January that Israel would continue to use military action to prevent “the transfer of game-changing weapons to Hezbollah from Syrian territory.”
Furthermore, Israeli officials are refusing to acknowledge that Iran’s objective in building up and improving Hezbollah’s missile force has always been the deterrence of Israeli or US military attack on Iran or an Israeli attack on Hezbollah.
Iranian officials began providing thousands of rockets to Hezbollah to bolster its own deterrent capacity when its own missile deterrent force was still in its infancy. At that time, Israel’s anti-missile system might well have intercepted any missiles it might fire at Israel, as Ephraim Kam, a specialist on Iran at Israel’s Jaffe Centre for Strategic Studies, observed in December 2004.
– is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy. He’s also a TFF Associate. His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February of 2014. Follow him on Twitter: @GarethPorter.