[The original version of this article was written by Yossi Melman, co-author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars, for The Jerusalem Post.]
Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan said Monday that Israel’s security situation on the northern border has improved as a result of the Syrian civil war, which has served to drain the blood of Hezbollah.
This notion was strengthened, afterward, by a very senior security official. Both spoke about the situations in Syria and Lebanon. Regarding Lebanon, despite inflammatory remarks made recently by Hassan Nasrallah warning Israel that if another war broke out it would suffer a major blow, the Israeli intelligence estimate is that Hezbollah has weakened and would not dare initiating hostilities with Israel.
On the surface, these appear to be trivial remarks, which have been repeated by military experts and analysts over the past several years. But to hear them from such senior military authorities is refreshingly new.
As far as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon are concerned, these comments verge on heresy. If our security situation has improved, does the IDF really need additions to its budget? And what about the approach taken by Netanyahu, who continues to warn, on every possible occasion, of the threat of Iran, Hezbollah and Islamic State?
In fact, Israel’s strategic situation has never been better.
Arab states that were once armed to the teeth, such as Libya and Iraq, have fallen apart. Egypt is a military and intelligence ally of Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Sinai terrorist threat.
Syria, prior to the civil war’s start in early 2011, was the greatest threat to Israel (although, to those who knew the truth, the Assad regime was not that much of a serious threat).
Today, Syria no longer actually exists as one sovereign, political entity, but rather is broken up into territories.
A small region in the Northeast is the Kurdish enclave.
Half of the country’s land, most of which is desert, mainly in the East, is controlled by Islamic State (known as ISIS, ISIL, or Da’esh).
In northern Syria and in the South on the border with Israel, on the Golan Heights, control is largely in the hands of the Nusra Front (the al-Qaeda affiliate that has been made more moderate by funding from Qatar).
The rest — which includes Damascus, the center of Aleppo, Homs and the coastal strip with the ports of Latakia and Tartus, in which President Bashar Assad’s Alawite minority resides — remains in the control of the regime. Soon, a new Druze enclave is also likely to be formed in the area of Jabal al-Druze in southeast Syria, near the approach to the Jordan border.
The Syrian Army is crumbling.
Iran is providing reinforcements to save what remains of the Assad regime, with the understanding that there is a limit to how many Lebanon-based Hezbollah fighters can serve as cannon fodder in a war to save Assad.
The situation in Syria has fallen into chaos. The US Embassy in Syria [which continues to be active, in effect in exile, with the building in Damascus closed for security reasons] tweeted on its official account Tuesday that the Syrian Air Force was striking rebel positions in the Aleppo area, helping Islamic State. ISIS is also fighting against the regime, but is mainly focusing its efforts against its adversaries among the opposition to Assad.
It is difficult to explain logically what is happening in Syria, and who is against whom. There is a feeling that everyone is against everyone.
With this being the case, any speculative report or rumor spreads its wings and takes flight with immediate headlines. That is why it was reported Tuesday in the Lebanese media that the Israeli Air Force again struck targets in Lebanon.
The Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar television station was quick to deny the reports, and Israel, as is its custom, neither confirmed nor denied them.
Anything is possible. It could be an Israeli attack or a false report.