The Golan Heights, one of Israel’s quietest frontiers, is showing signs of becoming an active front that could soon bring the forces of arch-enemies Iran and Israel into direct contact for the first time.
For nearly a month, Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah organization and other Shiite forces under Iranian command have been inching their way across a belt of southern Syria in a bid to drive out rebel forces fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an important Iranian ally.
If the offensive is successful, it could leave Iranian forces and their Shiite allies in control of the Syrian side of the Golan. And from that vantage point, Tehran could gain an additional means of deterrence against Israel in the remaining months before the June 30 deadline for negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.
“The Iranians through Hezbollah really do wish to complete this encirclement from the north [of Israel] now that they have access to the Golan.… I think that is a key strategic move for them,” says Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland and author of the Hizballah Cavalcade blog, which focuses on Shiite militarism in the Middle East.
Israel is eyeing with increasing concern the Iranian moves on the Golan, which was occupied by the Jewish state in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The offensive leaves Israel in a bind and creates the possibility that if it miscalculates in its response, it could ignite a region-wide war.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran last month of seeking to open a “third front” against Israel in addition to those of south Lebanon – home to Hezbollah – and Gaza – dominated by Hamas, which fought a two-month war against Israel last summer. And in his address this week to a joint session of Congress in which he warned against a developing nuclear deal, Mr. Netanyahu said Iran was an expansionist power that was “gobbling up” nations in the Middle East.
SOURCE: Nicholas Blanford
Christian Science Monitor