The Middle East is once again witness to a growing conflict, but unlike the internal conflicts that have prevailed over the past several years, this one involves two historically feuding regional powers: a vigilant Israel and an embattled Syria. On Tuesday, in response to gunfire that struck its forces in the Golan Heights region, Israeli troops shot at a target across the Syrian frontier. Syrian armies claim that Tuesday’s altercation was caused by a territorial incursion by a manned Israeli military jeep, an accusation that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) vehemently denies. The IDF has asserted that its forces remained within the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel captured from Syria in 1967 and annexed in 2000. Over the past several weeks each nation have pointed fingers at the other, causing international observers to wonder whether another regional conflict between the two states is inevitable.
Tuesday’s incident marked the first time the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad acknowledged firing shots across the Israeli border since the Syrian civil war began over two years ago. Many observing Assad’s moves have questioned his motives, wondering whether the embattled dictator’s actions have been spurred by a desire to project toughness during a difficult time for his regime.
A full-scale conflict between the two countries would further cripple the already dilapidated Syrian military, forcing it to fight both an internal conflict and an external war. Israeli military officials have warned the Syrian government that any further hostilities would result in grave consequences and that the Golan Heights would not become a comfort zone for the Assad regime.
Israel ramped up rhetoric again on Wednesday, with Israeli Air Force Chief Major General Amir Eshel warning Israelis to be prepared for a “surprise war” which could develop if isolated events escalate very quickly into a response that requires the full Israeli Defense Force. Such discourse has further added to Syria’s already precarious internal situation and has added to the instability of the Assad regime and its future.
While Syria has bombastically promised retribution against Israel for alleged incursions into its territory, such actions seem unlikely when Syria’s current domestic situation is taken into account. With the Syrian military currently focused on taking back control of the rebel-held city of Qusair, it is doubtful that Syrian forces will be able to wage an effective two-front war, one against the Israelis in the south and one against domestic rebels in the north.
The possibility of war between these two feuding states seems highly unlikely at the moment. While skirmishes along their border will persist, a full-scale war against the region's most powerful military will almost certainly lead to the demise of the Assad regime, an outcome that the Syrian president has sought to thwart for over two years.