Richard Silverstein — Tikun Olam Nov 1, 2015
Just as Russia escalates its military involvement in Syria and meets with the IDF central command in Moscow to coördinate both sides’ operational activity there, Israel attacked Hezbollah targets there over the past few days. Though Israeli security sources told Haaretz that they were not involved and refused to comment to the Jerusalem Post, my own confidential Israeli source confirms the attack.
At least 12 Israeli jets approached Syria through Lebanese air space and attacked a supposed weapons convoy near the Syrian-Lebanese border. Maariv reports that Israelis in the north witnessed the sorties flying over their skies, but that the military censor prohibited Israeli media from reporting this. I presume they feared that Assad read the Hebrew press and might scramble his anti-aircraft units based on what he read.
Despite the meetings in Moscow held over the past few weeks, my source tells me that the IDF gave Russia no advance notice of its actions and that this was “within the frame of understandings with Moscow.”
This tells me a number of things: first, that Israel and Russia have divided up Syria in much the same way that European colonial powers divided up China in an earlier era. Israel and Russia appear to have agreed to have certain spheres of influence in which they would hold sway militarily. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Israel’s sphere of influence in southern Lebanon which was policed by its Christian Arab proxy, South Lebanon Army.
For Syria, the deal is that Israel will act against its enemies in the western zone along the Lebanese-Israeli border, including Hezbollah and other Islamist elements; while Russia will take on its own Islamist enemies in the Syrian north and northeast. Though Russia claims it is attacking ISIS targets, Turkey has claimed that it is instead targeting rebel forces sponsored by that country in those areas.
As I feared and posted in the past, the various powers exerting their influence in Syria seem to plant to divide up the country into cantons based on which rebel groups happen to hold sway. There is no neat border delimiting who controls what; and the sides keep jockeying and fighting to increase their territorial sway. But the general outlines of a Syria fragmented into various ethnic-sectarian factions is clear.
This is something like what transpired during the Lebanese civil war, which lasted for fifteen years and brought untold suffering to that nation. Twenty-five years after its end, Lebanon still has not fully recovered. Ironically, it was a then all-powerful Hafez al-Assad who finally intervened to end that conflict. He had the benefit of very few outside powers, aside from Israel, intervening in that war.
There is no such regional strongman who can solve the problems of Syria in this instance. And there are far too many outside powers who have staked out positions and interests for this to happen. Those powers are far too fragmented to come up with a joint vision for the future of Syria. Which is why this war may continue as long as Lebanon’s, if not longer.