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TENSION RISING ALONG ISRAEL'S BORDERS WITH SYRIA & LEBANON

The civil war in Syria may be gradually cooling down but the Syrian and Lebanese borders are heating up. Is there a connection between these two developments?

Meanwhile, the US negotiating team, headed by Jared Kushner, has flown home to report to President Donald Trump after running into a hot reception from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

On the local political scene, a shake-up in the Zionist-Union (Labor) party may be in the offing as newcomer Avi Gabay gains momentum in the upcoming leadership race.

Israeli-Syrian Boarder view from the Golan Heights (photo credit: Sam Mugraby, Photos8.com)

Saturday afternoon on the Golan Heights: Hundreds of Israeli visitors are enjoying the annual cherry picking festival. Suddenly, a barrage of ten mortar bombs rains down inside Israeli territory opposite the deserted Syrian town of Kuneitra. Just seven hundred yards away inside Syria, President Assad's army has been battling rebel forces. Israeli spotters identify the source of the mortar fire in a nearby Syrian army position. Israel's policy is to steer clear of the Syrian civil war that has raged for seven years. However, Jerusalem also holds Syrian President Assad responsible for any artillery fire from his territory into Israel, whether it is accidental or deliberate. And so within a very short time, Israeli aircraft rocket the Syrian position, hitting two tanks. The Syrians reported later that two of their soldiers were killed. Meanwhile, Israeli visitors in the immediate region were ordered to leave. It was the most serious Israeli-Syrian clash since February, and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman again clarified that Israel will not tolerate any spillover of shooting into Israeli territory. At the same time, it's Assad's call - if there is more Syrian shooting across the frontier, the IDF will hit back hard.

Make no mistake: Israel is setting forth a future policy loud and clear as the civil war winds down. Although Assad's forces have been badly mauled, Iran's Revolutionary Guards are now based firmly in Syria. Jerusalem will not permit Tehran to turn the Syrian side of the Golan Heights into a forward base against Israel. In fact, one Iranian general was killed mysteriously, some say by the IDF, during a tour along the Israeli border. He was reportedly on a mission to map out future Iranian (Revolutionary Guard) positions. Israeli strategists believe that Tehran is intent on now expanding a Shiite Muslim 'Crescent' from Iran through Syria into Lebanon and then on to the Mediterranean coast. This would aggrandize its strategic position not only toward Israel but also against its Sunni Muslim rivals in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. (Iranian forces have been based in Syria for some time defending Assad's regime, whereas Hezbollah guerillas, equipped with some 150,000 rockets and missiles, is far more powerful than Lebanon's own official army. They have been able to build up their huge arsenal right under the noses of the UN peace force in Lebanon which was tasked with preventing such a development after the Second Lebanon War in 2006.) Moreover, a Hezbollah officer recently took a group of foreign correspondents on a tour of the Lebanese border with Israel, making clear that Hezbollah is in charge.

Lebanon forewarned...

Hezbollah has set up a series of observation towers along Lebanon's border with Israel under the guise of a civilian ecology organization called 'Green Group Without Borders' for planting trees.

So Israel is determined to prevent Iranian Revolutionary Guards or militias from establishing a forward base along Syria's border with Israel. In the same manner, Tehran has established forward bases with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and in Gaza with its support of Hamas. Such an emerging situation could pose serious threats to the Jewish state. Moreover, Hezbollah has set up a series of observation towers along Lebanon's border with Israel under the guise of a civilian ecology organization called 'Green Group Without Borders' for planting trees. Israel has complained to the UN that according to the cease-fire resolution, Hezbollah has no business along the border, but as usual, the UN observers have just shrugged their shoulders. In addition, Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan has warned that a new war between Israel and Lebanon or Syria would attract thousands of Muslim volunteers from all over the world. It could even include the same Muslim coalition fighting for Assad that includes Iran. Nasrallah also said Hezbollah's huge arsenal of rockets and missiles were now capable of reaching every military target inside of Israel.

Obviously, Israel is keeping its eyes peeled on this evolving situation. The brunt of Israel's deterrent power will be the Israeli Air Force, considered to be one of the most powerful in the world. Its capabilities are now being enhanced by the American F-35 sleuth fighter-bombers. Speaking at a public gathering, IAF commander Gen. Amir Eshel warned Hezbollah and other potential enemies of the consequences. Moreover, Nasrallah has warned Israel that he will launch his vast number of rockets at Israeli towns and cities making it the IAF's top priority to silence this threat as quickly as possible:

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot also disclosed that Hezbollah forces were located in 240 villages in southern Lebanon with personnel stationed in almost every third or fourth building.

    'If war breaks out in the north, we will have to go all-out from the start. And what the Israeli Air Force was capable of doing in 34 days during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 we can do now in 48-60 hours! Today our potential air power is hard to imagine and far greater than people assume'.

Hezbollah is known to have stored its rockets and missiles under the homes of villagers in southern Lebanon. The IAF is apparently aware of just where they are hidden and Gen. Eshel warned Lebanese villagers to leave their homes quickly if war breaks out. And he added:

       'We want to keep the collateral damage as low as possible, but it will not be zero. I don't want to delude myself, but we try to inflict as little collateral damage as possible'.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot also disclosed that Hezbollah forces were located in 240 villages in southern Lebanon with personnel stationed in almost every third or fourth building. To make things crystal clear for Beirut, Housing Minister Yoav Gallant, a former IDF general, has just told Israel Radio that if Hezbollah starts another war with Israel, the IDF will set back Lebanon 100 years!

No sign yet of Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough...

Jared Kushner (By Max Goldberg/Iowa State Daily from USA - Trump CAUCUS, CC BY 2.0)

US President Donald Trump's special delegation, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, has come and gone with no visible sign of progress. Kushner met first with Bibi in Jerusalem before taking a 20-minute drive to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. There were fireworks when Kushner again raised the idea that Abbas stop paying pensions to the families of Palestinian terrorists who are either behind bars in Israeli jails or were killed while trying to murder Israelis. Abbas contended that this is a social welfare issue and that the families of the 'martyrs' could not be left without an income. Stay tuned.

Dark horse for Labor party leader?

You may have to get used to the name of Avi Gabay (pronounced Ga-by,e like in bye-bye). The 50-year-old newcomer to Labor (Zionist Union) is gaining steadily in opinion polls and may be one of the two top candidates who will compete in a run-off - that is if no one receives the required fifty percent in the upcoming party ballot on July 4th. Gabay is a highly successful business executive, the son of a poor Moroccan family who has two university degrees. The former cabinet minister from Moshe Kahlon's party resigned from the government after Bibi named Avigdor Lieberman to replace former Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon.

Avi Gabbay (By Avi Ohayon - Government Press Office of Israel, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Gabay is coming across as a solid campaigner with a new approach that entails running a bigger budget deficit that would be financed over a ten year period by critical efficiency measures. He's talking about streamlining the national and private economies. Gabay says he has studied the figures and he is convinced he knows how to implement such a 'new deal' - rings bells of FDR in the US back in the thirties. Gabay has retorted to attacks by his Labor rivals that he lacks government experience, by telling party members:

       'If you vote again for the old party candidates you will get the same result in the next national election!'

'If you vote again for the old party candidates you will get the same result in the next national election!'

He has a point - the hapless Labor Party has been stuck in the doldrums for the past nine years, and Avi Gabay may be just what the doctor ordered - a fresh and very capable candidate, a trained economist who may attract many Sephardi voters who traditionally vote Likud. The weak point in his armor is he lacks the defense and foreign affairs experience that are so important for Israeli voters. On this score Amiram Levin, a famous retired IDF general, who was also running for party leader has dropped out of the race and thrown his support behind Gabay. And no less than Ehud Barak has indicated that he backs Gabay.




 

David Essing

 

 

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