Israel Attacks In Southern Syria Highlight Decades-Long Tension

On Monday, October 25th, the Syrian government claimed that Israel carried out attacks against the Southern border, according to state media. The state media did not mention what was hit or if there were any casualties, but rather just that there was “a new aggression in the southern region.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is a United Kingdom-based information office aimed at documenting human rights abuses in the Syrian War, reported that an Israeli aircraft had fired rockets at two locations in the Quneitra province, one of fourteen governorates in Syria that borders the countries of Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel since 2018. While material damage has been caused, no other information regarding casualties has been released. 

Last week, a meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Russian President Vladimir Putin – Syrian President Assad’s most powerful ally – occurred in Sochi, where Syria’s relationship with Israel was discussed. Bennet had notified his cabinet that they secured “good and stable” understandings regarding Syria, hopefully signifying a future alleviation of tensions between Russia and Israel surrounding the continued Israeli strikes on suspected Iranian assets. Alongside, there were discussions of Israel’s nuclear program. Syria has affirmed its right to respond to attacks, the foreign ministry stated, as stated by SANA. 

Syrian-Israeli relations have been bumpy ever since Israel’s founding in 1948, and Syria has still not recognized Israel as a legitimate state. The two have never had official diplomatic ties and have been locked in a state of perpetual war. Significant conflicts include the First, Third, and Fourth Arab-Israeli War, the Lebanese Civil War, the 1982 Lebanon War, and the War of Attrition. The Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, also put additional strain on the Israel-Syria ceasefire line. Though the two have signed many previous armistice agreements, all past efforts at complete peace have not been met with success. Additionally, there are extensive travel restrictions across the territories. This has resulted in extremely limited economic and cultural ties, as well as the movement of people and goods. 

The two governments signed an Armistice Agreement in 1949, but no peace treaty has yet been signed to date. The agreements made it clear that no permanent border had been established. However, the Arab States involved, including Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria, still defended Palestinians’ right of return and hindered Israeli navigation through Arab waters. However, both Israel and Syria have since then violated the armistice agreement. According to Yale Law School, the U.N. Security Council criticized Israel in its refusal to participate in armistice meetings as “inconsistent with the objectives and intent of the Armistice Agreement.” In September of 1953, it was questioned whether Israel started creeping the armistice border by using water diversion in the DMZ, to which the U.S. threatened to remove aid, leading to Israel to move intake out of the DMZ. In June of 1954, two armored Israeli launchers attacked a Syrian post in El Koursi continuously for 45 minutes, causing material damage. In May 1958, Syrian forces fired into the DMZ zone from Golan Heights, attacking fishing boats and agricultural workers. Overall, despite the aims of the Armistice Agreement that “No aggressive action by the armed forces-land, sea or air-of either Party shall be undertaken, planned, or threatened against the people or the armed forces of the other,” both parties have been inconsistent with their commitments and failed to follow the Agreement to its full extent, leading to periodic eruptions of violence and intermittent aggression, whether directly with force or indirectly through tactics such as water diversion. 

Additionally, the return of Golan Heights to Syria, as well as Syrian recognition of Israel have been central to war negotiation efforts. Golan Heights have been under Israeli occupation since its annexation in 1981, where 20,000 Druze still reside as of 2012 and have been hesitant to accept Israeli citizenship in fear of retribution if Golan Heights should be retaken by Syria. Since the Syrian civil war, applications for Israeli citizenship have increased, though many still face ostracization from older generations who tend to be more pro-Syrian. During the Syrian Civil War, and Syrian troops’ subsequent loss of control of the border with Israel resulted in incidents that are considered Quneitra Governorate clashes since 2012 and later clashes between the Syrian army and rebels. As of 2014, there have been casualties on both sides. From 2006 to the present, Syria has formed an alliance with Iran, which Israel has adamantly opposed. Syria provided support to Hezbollah and accused Israel of avoiding peace. During the Syrian Civil War, Israel also urged Syria to purge itself of Iranian relations and even asked Russia to assist in the withdrawal of Iranian troops from Syria. Therefore, the Syrian-Israeli conflicts also present a great ethnic-national issue, whereby residents that are straddled between the two states are torn between them but also face potential violence and ostracization. Complex relations with outside forces, including the Arab League and Russia also add layers of complications to Israel and Syria’s relationship. 

Peace negotiations were almost done during late 1999 and 2000 but were stuck regarding a small strip of land, only 12 kilometers long and a couple of hundred meters wide along the northeastern shore of Lake Tiberias. This missed opportunity hence had long-lasting implications, including the massive military expenditures that could have helped Syria in its current civil war or for building both states economically and socially. The peace agreement could also help allow for U.S. financial aid to rebuild both nations. Leadership on both ends has also fostered negative public perspectives amongst their people towards the other state; notably, both had refrained from using public diplomacy to prepare the public for the possibility of peaceful coexistence. Therefore, both the use of social influence and political negotiation will be needed to end the decades-long conflict between Israel and Syria. While Israel could hold Golan and ignore Syrian demands with its Western-backed support, it will only serve to isolate the nation further from its Arab neighbors, adding to unnecessary tensions and violence in the region. It is ultimately in each nation’s interests to form a Peace Treaty – not just an Armistice Agreement as before – and to follow through with commitments while allowing compromise regarding territory and allocation of resources. 



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