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Israel beats the drums of war

Israel is beating the drums of war in the region. Disappointed by American inactivity, and having failed to persuade Moscow to change its mind on the majority of regional issues that most concern Tel Aviv, Israel has decided its best course is to act unilaterally.
Its support for the Kurdish referendum is a litmus paper by which to understand Israel’s approach to the region. Kurdish independence would likely bring severe turbulence, and violence, to the region, affecting and involving many regional players.
For Israel, disharmony between the countries of the Arab world is a guarantee of its own safety. The only party to have benefited from the wars in Syria and Iraq is Israel: The now-decimated Iraqi and Syrian armies were widely considered the best in the Arab world, in terms of both equipment and skill.
And so, settlement of the Syrian conflict, particularly the way it is currently going, does not serve Israeli interests.
Continued Israeli airstrikes on Syria since 2013 — more than 100 targets in Syria and Lebanon, striking at arms convoys belonging to the Syrian regime and Hezbollah — show that the war in Syria is not moving the way Tel Aviv hoped it would. Israel’s most recent strike, near Homs at the end of October, allegedly targeted a copper factory in the industrial town of Hisyah, which Israel claimed contained a military installation.
In this hostile — for Tel Aviv — environment, Israel is making moves that threaten international efforts to finally establish peace in the Levant.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said Israel’s next battle on its northern front will be with Syria and Lebanon, adding, in a statement issued by the Ministry of Defense, that its enemy there would be the Syrian army and its allies, including Hezbollah. Lieberman also spoke of the possibility of fighting on the southern front — the Gaza Strip — at the same time.
“If an open battles breaks out, (it does not matter if it is) in the north or the south, as they will both erupt at the same time and by then we will be fighting on both fronts,” he said. “Thus, we have to prepare our army for this coming battle or these two battles.”

The tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have started to resemble those of 2006.

Maria Dubovikova

Lieberman did stress that Israel is trying to avoid armed conflict with any party. But nothing is guaranteed in the Middle East. Indeed, conflict seems inevitable: The tensions between Israel and Hezbollah have started to resemble those of 2006, which exploded into violence in July of that year.
Recent events involving Israel and Syria (and Syria’s allies) — most notably missiles launched at Israeli territory and an attempt to shoot down an Israeli aircraft — could also easily presage a battle in the north.
There appear, then, to be two very real possibilities of a new war breaking out soon: One between Israel and Hezbollah; the other between Israel and Syria with its allies. The latter is the more comprehensive and worrying threat.
At this point, Hezbollah is not focused on any confrontation with Israel. But that could change if Syria and Israel go to war. It seems likely Hezbollah would join with Syria in that case, in the hope of avoiding a solo battle.
If a war does break out between Israel, Syria and its allies, including Iran, the big question is: Where will Russian President Vladimir Putin’s loyalties lie?
It is not an easy question to answer. Regardless, it is important to remember that there is an agreement between Moscow and Washington that states no country is allowed a military presence in Syria, with the exception of Russia.
If it were to consider a war against Syria, then, Israel would be violating that US-Russian agreement. This would likely lead to direct military action against Israel from non-state actors supported by major powers including the Syrian government, Iran and Russia. What happens next is hard to predict.

Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme