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What is the conflict between Israel and Syria?

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Israel Syria Law Insider

By Arshia Jain

Published On: January 04, 2022 at 16:50 IST

Introduction

The bilateral connections between the State of Israel and the Syrian Arab Republic are referred to as Israel–Syria relations. The two nations have been at odds since Israel’s founding in 1948, with the First Arab–Israeli War in 1948–1949, the Third Arab–Israeli War in 1967, and the Fourth Arab–Israeli War in 1973 serving as the most major and direct combat engagements. [i]

Moreover, throughout the Lebanese Civil War, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the War of Attrition, Israeli and Syrian soldiers engaged in the heavy battle against one another. Both countries have signed and kept armistice agreements at various periods, even though all attempts to establish complete peace have failed.

Syria has never recognized Israel as a legitimate state, and Israeli passports are not recognized as legally valid for entry into Syrian territory; Israel, on the other hand, regards Syria as a hostile state and prohibits its citizens from traveling there, with some exceptions and special accommodations made by both countries for Druze people living in Syria and the Golan Heights are a group of mountains in Syria (regarded by the United Nations as Syrian territory, occupied by Israel since 1967). Since the founding of both nations in the mid-twentieth century, Israel and Syria have never maintained official diplomatic ties.[ii]

There have been essentially no commercial or cultural linkages between Israel and Syria, as a result of the absence of diplomatic relations and the ongoing state of conflict, and very restricted movement of individuals across the border.

Syria is a vocal supporter of the Arab League’s boycott of Israel. Both countries allow limited trade of locally grown apples for the Golan Druze villages on both sides of the UNDOF ceasefire line, and Syria provides 10% of the water supply for the Druze town of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights as part of a long-standing agreement dating back to the 1980s.

The Syrian Civil Conflict, which began in 2011 and is still ongoing as of 2021, has stretched the state of calm along the Israel–Syria ceasefire line (which has acted as the international boundary since the 1967 war).[iii]

Periods of animosity, ceasefire discussions, often through intermediaries, and disengagement agreements, such as the 1974 Israeli–Syrian disengagement deal, have defined ties between Israel and Syria since the 1949 Armistice Agreements.

Intermittent confrontations concentrated on the demilitarized zones, water difficulties, shelling, and infiltration from the Golan Heights before the 1967 Six-Day War. Since the conflict, the emphasis of discussions has been “land for peace,” with Israel returning the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for Syrian recognition of Israel and the creation of diplomatic ties with it, as stated in a UN Security Council resolution.[iv]

242nd Resolution Despite this, during the US-mediated Syrian–Israeli discussions in the 1990s, Syria insisted that Israel return to the “June 4, 1967 Lines,” [v]i.e., west of the original British Mandate boundary with Syria. Syria sought but failed to reclaim the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War, reclaiming just a tiny portion of it in the 1974 disengagement agreement while promising to move its armed troops farther east than they were in 1967–1973.

Background

In 1982, Israel attacked Lebanon to remove the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Syria dispatched infantry and air forces to aid the Lebanese, but the Israelis generally routed them. Before Israel’s pull-out in 2000, Syria continued to assist Lebanese militants.

At and after the multinational Madrid Conference of 1991, the first high-level public negotiations aimed at resolving the conflict between Israel and Syria were held. Several Israeli administrations had talks with Syria’s President Hafez Al-Assad in the 1990s. Despite making tremendous progress, they were unsuccessful.

The Ain es Saheb airstrike (an Israeli Air Force mission against Palestinian terrorists inside Syria) in 2003 and Operation Orchard (an Israeli air and commando campaign against Syria’s purported nuclear program) [vi]in 2007 were high points of antagonism in the 2000s.

Syria threatened to enter the Lebanon War on Hezbollah’s side, gave support to Hezbollah, and enabled Iran to smuggle supplies to Hezbollah through its borders during the 2006 Lebanon War. Following the 2008–2009 Gaza War, Turkey hosted peace negotiations between the two nations, however, Syria subsequently withdrew. The Israeli Air Force attacked a facility in the Deir Ez-Zor area in September 2007 during Operation Outside the Box, which Israel claimed was a nuclear site.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Israel of evading peace in 2010, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem threatened that Israeli towns will be targeted by Syrian missiles in the case of a future battle. [vii]In response, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that in a conflict with Israel, the Syrian military would be defeated, and Assad and his family would be removed from office.

Syria should likewise abandon its desire for the Golan Heights, according to Lieberman. For many months in 2010, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held covert talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which were facilitated by the United States.

During the Syrian Civil War, events along the Israeli–Syrian ceasefire line have occurred.

Several occurrences occurred on the Israeli–Syrian ceasefire line during the Syrian Civil War, putting the peace between the two nations under strain. The occurrences are stated to have passed off due to preventing in the Quneitra Governorate because 2012, in addition to clashes among the Syrian Army and rebels at the Syrian-controlled facet of the Golan and the Golan Neutral Zone, in addition to Hezbollah’s function inside the Syrian Civil War. [viii]

One Israeli civilian was killed and at least four infantrymen were injured during the incidents, which lasted from late 2012 to mid-2014; at least ten combat units had died on the Syrian-managed facet, as well as unidentified militants who attempted to penetrate the Israeli-occupied facet of the Golan Heights.

On May 11, 2018, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman encouraged Syria to lower the degree of Iranian military presence in the nation, saying: “Expel the Iranians, Qassem Soleimani, and the Quds troops from your land! They are not operating in your best interests; instead, they are causing you harm. Their very presence causes troubles and devastation.” On July 10, 2018, Lieberman said that creating “any form of connection” [ix]with Syria under Assad was not out of the question.

Netanyahu indicated on July 11, 2018, that Israel was not looking to take action against Assad, but encouraged Russia to help Iran evacuate its forces from Syria. On August 2, 2018, Lieberman suggested that reclaiming control of Syria’s border with Israel would minimize the likelihood of a confrontation in the Golan Heights by providing “a real address, someone responsible, and central rule.”[x]

In an agreement negotiated by Russia, Syria allowed the remains of Zechariah Baumel to be returned to Israel in April 2019. In January 2020, Israel made a “goodwill gesture[xi] to Syria by releasing two Syrian detainees. Syria refuted claims of a meeting between former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Syrian National Security Bureau chief Ali Mamlouk, arranged by Russia, at the Khmeimim Air Base in January 2021.

Israel took part in a Russian-brokered prisoner swap with Syria in February 2021, in which Syria freed an Israeli lady who had crossed into Syria in return for two Syrian shepherds who had crossed into Israel. According to the Times of Israel, there was more to this arrangement than only a prisoner swap, but this information had been deleted from media coverage of the accord by an Israeli military censor. According to subsequent international media reports, Israel sent COVID-19 vaccinations to Syria as part of the arrangement.

Israeli–Syrian ceasefire line

Several events on the Israeli–Syrian ceasefire line have strained relations between the two nations throughout the Syrian Civil War. The incidents are assumed to be a result of conflicts withinside the Quneitra Governorate that started in 2012, in addition to incidents concerning the Syrian Army and rebels at the Syrian-managed facet of the Golan and the Golan Neutral Zone, and Hezbollah’s engagement withinside the Syrian Civil War.

One Israeli civilian was murdered and at least four troops were injured during the events, which lasted from late 2012 to mid-2014; on the Syrian-controlled side, at least 10 soldiers were killed, as well as two unnamed terrorists who were recognized near Ein Zivan on the Golan Heights.[xii]

Function of Israel with inside Syrian Civil War

The official Israeli stance on the Syrian Civil War has been one of complete neutrality. On the other side, Israel has grown politically and militarily involved in Syria to counter the rising influence and entrenchment of Iranian soldiers and their proxies. Israel’s military operation, dubbed “Operation Chess,” [xiii]has mostly consisted of missile and air attacks on Iranian sites in Syria, as well as those of its proxies, particularly Hezbollah.

Before 2017, these assaults were not publicly acknowledged. Israel has also launched air attacks in Syria to impede Hezbollah’s weapons supplies. From 2013 through September 2018, Israel supplied humanitarian relief to victims of the civil conflict, an operation that was stepped up with the commencement of Operation Good Neighbour in June 2016.[xiv]

Israeli stance

  • Position of non-interference:  According to several Israeli Defense Ministers, Israel’s official posture in the Syrian Civil War has been complete neutrality. Although “keeping Assad in power is not in our security interests,” Israel said in July 2017, “because the rebels are not our partners and are all versions of al-Qaida,” according to Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s Defense Minister. As long as he is in power, Iran and Hezbollah will remain in Syria. He added that Israel had no wish to join in the Syrian civil war, but that it had created ′′red lines,′′ such as sophisticated weapons smuggling to Hezbollah and Iran’s position on Israel’s borders.[xv]

    Later in July 2017, the Israeli government stated that it was opposed to the US, Russia, and Jordan’s cease-fire agreement reached a week prior in southern Syria, which envisaged the establishment of de-escalation zones along Syria’s borders with both Jordan and Israel, as it would legalize Iran’s presence in Syria. In October 2017, Lieberman admitted that Assad was winning the war and that international forces were courting him, which he described as “unprecedented.”[xvi]

According to the paper, the comment “marked a reversal for Israel, whose top officials had consistently predicted Assad would lose control of his country and be ousted from the start of the war in 2011 until mid-2015.” He urged the US to get more involved ′′in Syria and the Middle East in general ,′′stressing that Israel was dealing with Russians, Iranians, Turks, and Hezbollah.”[xvii]

  • Israel’s stance on Iran’s involvement in Syria: The United States and Russia directly arranged a new ceasefire deal for southwest Syria on July 9, 2017. The US and Russia have already attempted several times to achieve an agreement on establishing a truce in various sections of Syria. However, previous ceasefire attempts failed to lessen violence for an extended period. On July 7, 2017, at their meeting at the Group of 20 summits in Hamburg, Germany, US President Donald Trump, and Russian President Vladimir Putin struck an agreement. It impacts towns, villages, and borders in three Jordanian and Israeli-controlled territories. The agreement calls for the creation of de-escalation zones, also known as safe zones, along Syria’s borders with Jordan and Israel.

The Israeli government rejected the ceasefire accord, claiming that the proposed ceasefire agreement was not reflecting its security interests. “While inflaming tensions in southern Syria, it ignores Israel’s serious security concerns. In the past, there has been no mention of Iran, Hezbollah, or Shi’ite terrorism in Syria.” [xviii]

According to reports, Israel undertook covert conversations with Russia and the US about the ceasefire accord. The Israeli government has made it clear that it wants Iranian soldiers out of Syria. It was upset, however, because it said that the accord “contradicted practically all of Israel’s arguments offered to the Americans and Russians.”[xix]

The primary fear of the Israeli administration about the ceasefire deal was that it would expand Iranian influence in the region. In August 2017, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with Putin to express Israel’s worries over the ceasefire accord. “Mr. President, we are fighting Islamic State as a result of our combined efforts, and this is critical. The bad news is that Iran is stepping in where the defeated Islamic State organization has vanished “He informed Putin. [xx]

The Russian administration has assured Israel’s counterpart that it will prevent Iran or Hezbollah from starting a new front with the Jewish state. “We take Israeli interests in Syria into consideration,” Russia’s envoy to Israel, Alexander Petrovich Shein, told Israel’s Channel One television on Tuesday. Foreign forces would not be permitted to stay if it were up to Russia,” he said. Yossi Cohen, the chief of Mossad, led a delegation to Washington to meet with key White House and Pentagon officials. One of the main subjects of discussion was the southern Syria ceasefire agreement and its ramifications. [xxi]

“The organization is expected to attempt to influence pinnacle management officers that factors of the southern Syria cease-hearthplace settlement must be revised to consist of express phrases approximately the want to withdraw Iranian navy, Hezbollah, and Shi’ite militias from Syria,” a senior Israeli professional said. “On the alternative hand, the high-stage delegation became not able to “gain a pledge from the Americans that any settlement to give up the violence in Syria could consist of the elimination of Iranian navy employees from Syria.”

Following the exchange of fire on May 10, 2018, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that Israel will not allow Iran to use Syria as a “forward base” against it.

Events involving ceasefire lines

Several events on the Israeli–Syrian ceasefire line have strained relations between the two nations throughout the Syrian Civil War. The occurrences are thought to be a result of confrontations between the Syrian Army and rebels in the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan and the Golan Neutral Zone since 2012, as well as Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian Civil War.

One Israeli citizen was murdered and at least four military personnel were injured during the events, which spanned from late 2012 to mid-2014; at the Syrian-managed facet, as a minimum of 10 troops have been killed, in addition to unnamed terrorists who have been acknowledged close to Ein Zivan at the Golan Heights.[xxii]

Clash between Iran and Israel

Israel is said to have carried out or supported operations against Hezbollah and Iranian sites in Syria and Lebanon on multiple occasions. On 30 January 2013, Israeli aircraft targeted a Syrian convoy purportedly delivering Iranian weaponry to Hezbollah, in one of the first credibly recorded incidents of this nature. Israel has previously failed to comment on the incident, ostensibly to prevent the Syrian government from feeling compelled to react.

IAF was blamed for several events in May 2013, December 2014, and April 2015. Syria has verified some of the claims, while others have been disputed. Israel has declined to respond to allegations that Hezbollah and Syrian targets were targeted in Syrian territory. In 2015, suspected Hezbollah terrorists attacked Israeli soldiers in Shebaa farms in retaliation. Syria deployed anti-aircraft missiles into the Israeli-controlled section of the Golan Heights in March 2017, purportedly targeting Israeli IAF planes on their route to assault targets in Palmyra, according to Syria (Syria).

Following the event, Israel declared that it would target weapons shipments destined for anti-Israeli forces, particularly Hezbollah. Syria claimed that one jet fighter was shot down and another was damaged, but Israel disputed this. Following the event, Israel has not reported any pilots or planes missing in Syria or elsewhere in the Middle East[xxiii]. According to some sources, this was the first time Israeli officials recognised an Israeli hit on a Hezbollah convoy during the Syrian Civil War. As of September 2017, this was the first time such confirmation has been given.[xxiv]

In the six years since the Syrian war began, Israel’s air force has admitted attacking Ba’athist Syria’s and Lebanon’s Hezbollah’s arms convoys about 100 times.

At least ten airstrikes targeted the highlands around Deir Ez-Zor city on January 13, killing 26 persons, including 14 Syrian military and 12 Iranian forces. In the Al-Bokamal desert, six aircraft targeted arms storage and ammo dumps, killing 16 fighters. Two airstrikes in the Al-Mayadeen desert targeted warehouses, killing 15 militia members. In total, 57 people were killed in 18 airstrikes across the Deir Ez-Zor Governorate, the largest death toll since Israel began its assaults on Syria.

Conclusion

The losses suffered by Arab countries in the conflict were catastrophic. Egypt suffered more than 11,000 casualties, compared to merely 700 for Israel, 6,000 for Jordan, and 1,000 for Syria. Weapons and equipment were also lost in large quantities by the Arab troops. Both the Arab masses and the political elite were discouraged by the lop-sidedness of the defeat. Nasser announced his retirement on June 9 but was swiftly overtaken by enormous protests demanding that he stay in power. There was exhilaration in Israel, which had shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was the region’s premier military power.

The Six-Day War also marked the beginning of a new era in Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, since it resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and the influx of over one million Palestinians into Israel’s occupied areas. The United Nations enacted UN Resolution 242 in November, months after the conflict, calling for Israel’s departure from the regions it had seized in the war in exchange for a durable peace. That resolution served as the foundation for Israel’s diplomatic endeavours with its neighbours, notably the Camp David Accords with Egypt and the Palestinians’ demand for a two-state solution.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arshia Jain is a second-year law student at SVKM’s NMIMS, School of Law in Navi Mumbai, Mumbai, India, pursuing a BBALLB. When it comes to work, she is a dedicated and hardworking individual. She believes in pursuing one’s dreams and remaining optimistic throughout life.

Edited by: Tanvi Mahajan, Publisher, Law Insider

References


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