Israel Must Stop Syria’s Advance Southward

By Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA

BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 884, July 5, 2018

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Israel must halt the reconsolidation of the Syrian regime, especially in the country’s south. Russia helped to bolster the regime through airpower. In response to the resulting and growing threat, Israel must now unleash the might of the IAF.

Ever since the 1982 Lebanon war, the Israeli leadership has repeated the mantra that non-involvement in foreign battlefields is better than engagement.

That spell continues to affect Israeli policies towards Syria despite the occasional aerial strikes leveled against Syrian and Iranian installations and forces.

No rule applies to all situations. In the case of Israeli involvement in Syria, minimal involvement is now downright dangerous.

Unlike the 1982 Lebanon war, when Israel sought to bolster the Lebanese government in the face of Palestinian and Syrian intervention, it must now become engaged in Syrian affairs to halt the reconsolidation of a regime that has long exacted Israeli blood and treasure and will continue to do so as an Iranian puppet. If the regime’s position is reconsolidated, especially in the south bordering the Golan Heights, Tehran will expect it to ramp up its conflict with Israel.

What must Israel do to prevent this?

The Syrians are advancing southward against the last rebel strongholds in the Daraa area. The IAF must stop that advance by striking at the movement of forces and Syrian positions. The drawing of heavy casualties must be added to the list of Israeli objectives in Syria.

This is of crucial importance because of the unique demographic attributes of Israel’s enemies, the Alawite regime, its Hezbollah supporters, and even the Iranians.

Professor Eyal Zisser, Israel’s leading Syria expert, has analyzed demographic growth across Syria as reflected in the 2004 census. He found that the areas where Alawites, the community behind the regime and that accounts for by far the largest reservoir of Syria’s fighters, had the lowest growth rates in the country. Zisser estimated that before the rebellion in 2011, the Alawite community represented only 6-7% of the population rather than the 10-12% usually attributed to it.

The Syrian regime’s demographic disadvantage can only have declined since 2011. Certainly that can be seen on the battlefield. Throughout the rebellion, the Syrian regime has fought in piecemeal fashion. Up to 2015, almost any advance on one front meant a loss on another.  For example, when the regime assaulted Homs, it lost ground in Idlib. It did not have sufficient manpower to conduct two-front assaults even with the help of Hezbollah and the popular militias.

Even when massive Russian air power tilted the balance of power in the Syrian regime’s favor in the fall of 2015, the difficulty of sustaining casualties and an aging fighting force meant it could only consolidate its hold haphazardly. Syria had to decide on which front to advance: either east of Aleppo and Homs against ISIS, or in the eastern suburbs and towns of Ghouta against other Islamic militias. These battles could never be conducted simultaneously. The numerous local truces between rebel militias and the regime, many of them “brokered” by the Russians and Iranians, allowed the regime to advance on one front at a time.

As the regime became more powerful, the truces were replaced by preplanned and highly organized withdrawals of rebel forces and their families from areas both west and east of Damascus to Idlib, brokered by Russia. There were regular photos of rebels and their families boarding buses surrounded by Russian military police and these cordons of buses being led by Russian military vehicles on the journey to Idlib through government-controlled areas.

Unfortunately for the Sunni community, certainly for the rebels and for Israel, the divided rebel forces, which numbered in the hundreds of groups, fought each other as much as they fought the Syrian army. It was this chronic divisiveness and internecine fighting that allowed the regime to consolidate its hold. Israel must prevent the continuation of this process.

The same demographic predicament in which the Alawites find themselves affects the Shiite community in Lebanon, which provides the pool of manpower for Hezbollah. Lebanese demographic data is notoriously inaccurate – the official demographic agency of the state gives estimates of the Lebanese population with a discrepancy of one-third, between 5 million and 3.5 million. It also provides no information about the communities that make up the Lebanese population. Estimates for the Shiite community range from one to two million.

I unearthed a detailed compilation of data for Lebanese schools in 2006, down to the exact number of students in every school. These data clearly demonstrate the paucity of both schools and students in predominantly Shiite districts. Through simple demographic extrapolation, one can safely say the smaller population estimate is closer to the truth.

This small community has been sacrificing its sons, with only brief respites, ever since the establishment of Hezbollah 36 years ago – first against Israel and its allied militia, and since then on Syrian battlefields.

Adding to the impact of the incessant bloodletting are studies that claim that Shiite fertility rates in Lebanon (and indeed in Iran) had dropped by 2004 to replacement levels and are now at European levels of around 1.7 children per woman. This means that those induced to replace aging fighters will increasingly come from very small families for whom their loss will be especially costly.

Israel must draw lessons from the successful Russian intervention in Syria and do the exact opposite.

The Russians helped consolidate the regime by pounding rebel troops into agreeing to truces and withdrawals through the strategic use of airpower. Israel must now unleash the IAF’s might to stop further consolidation of the regime as well as to try to unite and arm the rebel forces southern Syria as much as possible.

Not only is the will important, but so is the way – by exacting enemy losses. The more manpower the Syrian army and Hezbollah lose, the greater their reluctance will be to continue to fight Israel in the future.

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Prof. Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family

July 5, 2018 | 13 Comments » | 946 views

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13 Comments / 13 Comments

  1. @ Bear Klein:

    Yes, assuming that Assad and Hezbollah intend to fight Israel in the future. So it’s conditional, I’ve noted several times in my posts that Assad was running short of fighters. I noticed this already 3-4 years ago. And if, as the Prof. says, Hezbollah is being drawn from a small pool in Lebanon, it can’t afford the kind of losses that Israel would inflict. It would go out of existence. Also Assad has kept the Golan quiet from the Syrian side ever since he came to power. And there’s never been any indication that he wants to change that.

    Assad and Hezbollah together attacking Israel would be a disaster for them. Even being supplied with armaments by Iran. Who knows how much longer the shaky Iranian power structure will last, and if it falls, there goes Hezbollah’s only major backer.

  2. @ Edgar G.:
    They also have an army of Shia militia. They intend do a war of attrition on Israel. Especially if Iran gets nukes. You can not allow them to be in a position to hurt Israel. So they have been warned not to advance and still are. That is enough of a danger and message to attack them hard and fast.

    You actually make me chuckle the one Arab you trust is Assad! No offense. Anyway it is okay to disagree. Syria is getting sucked along they are not in control anymore but are obligated to fight along side their allies.

  3. @ Bear Klein:

    That advance has been stalled for a little while. Also Israel has that Golan border sewn up so tight that unless they become paratroopers they have no chance to get into Israel in force.

    The Shi’aa militia tayg in d’rerd. Where are they going to get the top notch hardware they need, the 1st class tanks, the planes, etc. All this takes enormous and lengthy preparation, years, giving Israel loads of time to destroy them all on the ground whilst they are in transit. And….they are Arabs, who will run like rabbits if Israel attacks them with PURPOSE., and shows them what REAL War is like.

    As for Iran getting the nuclear weapons. Nearly the whole world is against Iran getting the bomb. They’ve been trying for so many years already with scads of money, and help from rogue regimes like Nth. Korea. At one time they got help from Pakistan, and of course Russia sold them reactors for civilian use. They still don’t have the bomb.

    I believe that even if they had a breakthrough and got one, they’d be afraid to use it.

    America could destroy Iran completely if they showed success with even one bomb. And Israel knowing what Iran SAYS it will use to bomb for , would act first. It may be partly a HUGE bluff, to keep the world in turmoil, which is good for Islam, and to gain importance as the aspiring leader of the Islamic world.
    Iran has been under lunatic leadership since 1979, nearly 40 years, and is a lot worse off now than then. If you want to pick up, say 100.000 rials as souvenirs, you can sacrifice $1 to a black-market dealer…….. It used to be 7 reals to a dollar. Which reminds me of the good old days in Israel when;

    Israel pegged the Lira at 4 to the Dollar, I used to get 11 from dealers, and with runaway inflation, my 3 year lease of a large apartment my rent only averaged out to about $15 a month. Ah…Them were the Days…..!!

    As you know, the Saudis, have repeatedly said that if Iran showed that it was on the verge of a bomb, that THEY would immediately buy one. Then there would be proliferation everywhere. That’s too risky for the Major Nations to allow.

    Just my opinion of course but logical, and reasoned-out.

  4. BEIRUT – The Syrian military and its Russian allies pummeled rebel-held towns in southwest Syria overnight with more than 600 air strikes in 15 hours, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said.

    After four days of reduced bombardment, the intense air strikes had resumed on Wednesday following the collapse of talks between insurgent groups and Russian officers.

  5. @ Bear Klein:

    That may be so, because the talks between Assad and the Rebels broke down, But just today, Gilad Erdan announced that if Syria breaks the 1974 Agreement by deploying anything in the demilitarized zone, Israel will immediately respond with force. Israel will not permit any violation. Israel has already sent extra tanks and artillery to the Golan and are taking all precautionary measures.

    So I reiterate my earlier post, minus the stalled attacks.

  6. @ Edgar G.:

    Israel’s nightmare scenario is the consolidation of Shiite militias and Hezbollah forces along the border with Syria, where they are sure to set up operational infrastructure similar to the one in southern Lebanon, which comprises military combat zones in the villages, no doubt in preparation for future fighting against Israel.

    Such a scenario is not necessarily a predetermined decree. First, Israel has learned from its mistake in Lebanon and will not allow it to be replicated in Syria without a fight. Second, Hezbollah’s grip on southern Lebanon is based on the support it received from Shiite villages, while most of the Syrian Golan’s residents are Sunnis, who will not easily sway their sympathies toward Iran, certainly not after years during which the only entity that provided them with aid – food, medicine and at times, according to foreign media report, weapons – was Israel.

    The above is part of a good article found at

  7. @ Bear Klein:

    You know that all sounds very threatening, but it really is strategically negligible. They can fortify their villages to the teeth indeed to the heavens, but what use will they be except to keep the local natives subdued. They will be on the other side of the border, and outside the demilitarised zone. Any structure begun inside the zone will be immediately destroyed by Israel. If they start lobbing missiles into Israel from them, they’ll be demolished. The fortified villages themselves are exposed to the IAF which is very powerful. Even the expected underground facilities would not be safe.

    It would be very like the Napoleonic period situation at the Torres Vedras in Portugal, where Marshal Massena fruitlessly marched al around the skilfully blocked fortifications and abatis for 6 weeks without being able to get in and had to ingloriously retreat.

    Israel’s previous entry into Syria was because of War and in hot pursuit of Arafat and his terrorists, who were ready to become memories, when the US stepped in an forced Israel to back off. But they got Arafat and his terrorists shipped off to Tunisia.

    I don’t want to upset myself by thinking of what happened to bring them back into Israel. A disaster for Israel and the world worse than Merkel’s come one-come all, door is open…welcome.

  8. I think the author is dead wrong. The current policy is correct. Israel would be crazy to take sides in this war other than to enforce Israel’s own security red lines. Because Israel has done it this way, all these enemy forces have been willing to back off wherever Israel would pound them if they didn’t. If Israel simply went all in on one side, all bets would be off, especially, considering Israel is able to coordinate with the U.S AND Russia. Think that would be possible? Moreover, the humanitarian aid on the border is also helping Israel in creating pro-Israel constitutencies across a broad swathe of factions in between Israel and the raging armies. No, this is one area where I think the military and political leadership are doing just fine. Let’s hope they keep it up.

  9. IDF spots disguised Hizballah troops among Syrian refugees
    Jul 7, 2018 @ 16:41

    Mingled among the 15,000 Syrian refugees parked on Israel’s Golan border, the IDF spotted Iranian and Hizballah troops in civilian garb, it was reported Saturday. The military spokesman said they were “only few in number” and the IDF was keeping an eye on them. The Syrian refugee encampment is situated 1,200 meters from the IDF’s Tel Fares outposts in the central Golan. Israeli officials have vowed never to allow Iranian or Hizballah military to set foot in the Syrian-Israeli border. Yet no action was taken after the sightings of the masqueraders, although they were likely testing the ground before signaling the arrival of larger groups

  10. @ Bear Klein:

    Did I say I TRUSTED him…? I don’t recall that… Perhaps you should “read” my post instead of just glancing at it quickly.

  11. @ Edgar G.:
    Do not be so defensive kindly sir. I respect your right to your own view and I teased you about it. Days later you are commenting on it.

    I am posting relevant info to the subject at hand. I read your outlook on the subject and do not concur with many points (some I do) without going point by point because it does not matter. Obviously you made your point and have been defending it.

    By the way the IDF chased Arafat out of Beirut, Lebanon and not Syria, when he and his PLO ended up in Tunis.

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