Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Trouble on the southern front

When Israel again shelled Syrian army positions in the Golan, the customary condemnation was noticeably absent, Bassel Oudat reports from Damascus

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week, a mortar shell was fired from Syria on the occupied Golan Heights, killing an Israeli and wounding two. It is not yet clear who fired it, or what exactly the purpose of such a move was.

Israel reacted with customary heavy-handedness, bombing nine military targets of the Syrian army, including the command of the 90th Brigade, an artillery battery, and training camps.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Israel actually thought that the Syrian army was responsible for the shelling, or that it was a convenient target for reprisals.

According to observers, the mortar shell that fell on Israel’s side of the occupied Golan was beyond the range of Syrian opposition groups, which rules out one possibility.

This seems to suggest that the Syrian army is the one that fired the shot, which would be the first time in 40 years that this had happened.

But even the Israelis are not convinced that this is the case. Israeli sources say that Hizbullah is the most likely culprit, because — unlike the Syrian army — it has access to the type of ammunition that was used in the shelling.

This view is corroborated by Syrian opposition sources that say that Hizbullah fighters have been streaming into the Golan since April.

The history of Israel’s shelling of Syria is long.

In 2003, Israeli planes shelled positions held by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) northwest of Damascus.

In 2006, Israeli planes overflew the Syrian presidential palace in Latakia, but didn’t open fire.

In September 2007, Israel bombed a site in northern Syria that it claimed was being prepared for the building of a nuclear reactor.

In January 2013, Israeli planes waged three raids on undisclosed targets on the Syrian-Lebanese borders. Days later, the Israelis attacked a location near Damascus housing a facility run by the Scientific Research Centre of the Ministry of Defence.

In May 2013, Israel shelled Syrian tanks said to have been carrying medium and long-range missiles intended for Hizbullah. In the same month, Israeli planes fired army positions on Mount Qassioun in Damascus and on the Damascus-Beirut Road.

In January 2014, the Israelis bombed a weapons depot in Latakia.

In March 2014, Israel shelled Syrian targets in the Golan.

Syria sent a protest note to the UN secretary general, saying that Israel’s aggression is a bonus to the terrorist groups against whom the regime is fighting.

Some Syrian opposition members believe that the Syrian regime is trying to provoke Israel in order to score a moral point as a defender of the Arab cause — a narrative it had told so many times that it came to believe it.

Others blame Hizbullah, whose motives may be less clear. Is Hizbullah trying to do in south Syria what it can no longer attempt in South Lebanon? Or is it so desperate for popularity it is hoping that a confrontation with Israel, however limited, may restore some of its lost stature?

Monzir Khaddam, spokesman for the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), admits that things are unclear for now.

“I cannot speculate on who fired the rocket shells on Israel, nor do I know for sure the size of Hizbullah’s force there. But I can tell you that the Syrian regime has no interest in antagonising Israel whatsoever.”

Syrian opposition member Omar Al-Kosh disagrees with this assessment. He believes that the Syrian regime wants to provoke Israel.

“The regime is provoking Israel to bolster its own assertion that that it is fighting a conspiracy by the Americans, Israelis, the West and the Arabs.”

For once, the public reaction to Israel’s aggression was subdued. In fact, some Syrians hope that Israeli would take to shelling the most fearsome units of the Syrian army, such as the Syrian Republican Guard or the 4th Battalion of Maher Al-Assad, the president’s brother.

For Israel, this is good news for a change; it can take pot shots across the border without incurring the usual condemnation. After three years of civil war, such is the resentment felt towards the Syrian army and such is the sorry state of regional politics that an Israeli attack that would have provoked a hue and cry across the region was met with near indifference.

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