Israel says Syrian front likely to be quieter under Assad rule

Israel says would deploy its military if Iran were to try to block the Bab al-Mandeb strait.
Thursday 02/08/2018
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks to the press during a visit to the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, on July 10. (AFP)
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks to the press during a visit to the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, on July 10. (AFP)

LONDON – Israel’s defence minister described Syria’s return to its pre-civil war situation as a given on Thursday, and predicted that the Golan Heights frontier would be quieter with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s central rule restored.

“From our perspective, the situation is returning to how it was before the civil war, meaning there is a real address, someone responsible, and central rule,” Avigdor Lieberman told reporters. Asked whether Israelis should be less wary of potential Golan flare-ups, Lieberman said: “I believe so.” 

Separately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.that Israel would deploy its military if Iran were to try to block the Bab al-Mandeb strait that links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

Last week, Saudi Arabia said it was suspending oil shipments through the strait, on the main sea route from the Middle East to Europe, after Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis attacked two ships in the waterway.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are in a three-year-old proxy war in Yemen, which lies on the southern side of Bab al-Mandeb.

Yemen's Houthis, who have previously threatened to block the strait, said last week they had the naval capability to hit Saudi ports and other Red Sea targets.

Iran has not threatened to block Bab al-Mandeb but has said it would block the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Gulf, if it were prevented from exporting its own oil.

"If Iran will try to block the straits of Bab al-Mandeb, I am certain that it will find itself confronting an international coalition that will be determined to prevent this, and this coalition will also include all of Israel's military branches," Netanyahu said at a passing out parade for new naval officers in Haifa.

Lieberman said in a separate speech at the event that Israel had "recently heard of threats to harm Israeli ships in the Red Sea." He gave no further details.

Ships bound for Israel, mainly from Asia, pass through the waterway to Eilat, or continue through the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean Sea. Ships bound for Jordan's Aqaba port and for some Saudi destinations must also pass through the strait.

Bab al-Mandeb is 29 km (18 miles) wide, making hundreds of ships potentially an easy target. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said an estimated 4.8 million barrels per day of crude oil and products flowed through it in 2016.

Israel has attacked Iranian forces in Syria and has insisted that they leave Syria completely. The forces have withdrawn to a distance of 85 km (53 miles) from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Russia's special envoy to Syria said on Wednesday. 

Meanwhile, Israel said it will stop shipments of fuel and gas to the Gaza Strip from Thursday in response to militants in the enclave launching incendiary balloons that have torched fields in Israel.
A statement from Lieberman's office on Wednesday said he had ordered a halt to fuel supplies into the strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing until further notice.

"The decision has been taken in view of the continued terror of incendiary balloons and friction along the (border) fence," the statement said.

Four months of weekly Friday border protests that began on March 30 have calmed slightly but organisers have vowed they will continue until Israel lifts economic sanctions on the enclave.

At least 155 Palestinians have been killed by Israel in the protests and one Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper in Gaza.

“Israel and Gaza may yet pull back from the brink. But absent some miracle, the violent instability seems likely to continue, leaving the two sides only one incident away from war,” Michael J. Armstrong, an associate professor of operations research at Canada’s Brock University, wrote in a commentary published by Reuters. 

(The Arab Weekly staff and news agencies)