Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has given “diplomatic priority” to stressing the perils posed by Iranian-sponsored terrorism and its nuclear-capable ballistic weapons, and placed them at the top of his talks with British premier Theresa May in London Monday, Feb. 6, and with President Donald Trump in Washington on Feb. 15.
But it stands to reason that their national security and intelligence experts have advised the US president and the British premier that Netanyahu has been firmly advised up to the present day to stay clear of military involvement in the Syrian conflict by the IDF high command and his past and present defense ministers, Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Ya’alon.
Israel therefore stands to be excluded from the practical deliberations ongoing for Syria’s future. Jordan in contrast has stepped forward as the key Middle East player in the pacts and military understandings shaping up between the US, Russia and Turkey for throwing Iran out of Syria.
Jordan’s King Abdullah swallowed his pride and took the initiative of flying to Washington last Thursday, Feb. 2, to buttonhole President Trump. From their brief conversation, he became the first Middle East ruler to win a green light from the US for an air strike against the ISIS ally, the Khalid Ibn al-Walid Army, which occupies the triangle formed by the Syrian, Jordanian and Israeli borders. Israel has never attacked this force in the five years since it moved into that part of southern Syria.
DEBKAfile”s military and intelligence sources disclose that Abdullah informed Trump that the air strike would take place under the supervision of the US, Russian and Syrian commands, making it the first instance of US-Russian support for a Middle East army’s action against ISIS in Syria.
And so, on Saturday, Feb. 4, six Royal Jordanian Air Force F-15 fighters and five drones bombed seven Khalid Ibn al-Walid positions. This air strike most probably heralded more bombardments to come. Jordanian commando units are also likely to mount raids, in concert with the Syrian rebel militias they have trained, to seize the ground occupied by ISIS’ offshoot.
And on the diplomatic front, the US President authorized Jordan’s attendance at the Syrian peace talks that are ongoing under Russian sponsorship at the Kazakh capital of Astana. The Jordanian delegation was deputized to act on America’s behalf to monitor the process for determining the future of Syria.
This move came a week after the British prime minister was urged by Trump to fly straight to Ankara after their talks in Washington in search of a military collaboration deal for Syria between the UK and Turkey.
The onset of Jordan’s military action in Syria has pumped up to seven the number of foreign armies involved in that country’s conflict: Russia, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, pro-Iranian Shiite militias from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Lebanese Hizballah, US forces, the Turkish Army and now Jordan.
Synchronously with the Jordanian air strike in southern Syria, President Bashar Assad announced that its launch makes it possible for Syrian civilians who fled from the Islamists to start returning to their homes, starting with the Quneitra region of the Syrian Golan. He was talking about 30,000 refugees.
It is obvious to anyone familiar with the Syrian scene that this population shift is an open invitation for thousands of Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps members and Hizballah terrorists to take the opportunity of stealing into the Golan, in the guise of returning refugees.
Israel, aside from providing an intelligence service on Syria to coalition forces, finds itself left out of any say in the currently evolving peace process. While ISIS may be rooted out of this border area at some point, the Netanyahu government’s military inaction risks exposing the Golan to another attempted incursion by Iranian and Hizballah forces by covert means.
The diplomatic prioritization of the Iranian threat, coupled with talks with US president Trump and deals with Russian President Putin, amount to a policy that has gone bankrupt for Netanyahu and his security chiefs. The powers who will determine what happens next in Syria are bound by military cooperation and action. Because Netanyahu’s rhetoric about the perils posed by Iran is not backed by military action, Israel has no influence on coming events, and faces the very real risk of being faced with an Iranian presence on its northern doorstep.