The sounds of war have again echoed over the Golan Heights this past week. However, the drums of war have changed their course. Until last summer, we could clearly hear and witness the Syrian war with Syrian and Russian planes bombing rebel positions, occasionally “stray mortar” hitting the Israeli Golan.
However, this week those were Israeli tanks allegedly shooting to Quneitra, just across the Alpha Line and last month it was the roar of Iranian surface-to-surface missiles, flying above the heads of Israeli skiers who surprisingly saw the rendezvous of Israeli Iron dome interceptors.
The sounds of Israeli fighter jets – operating to dismantle Iranian positions, ammunition depots and shipments to Hezbollah have replaced the Syrian ones – have added additional drums of war to the northern horizons. The Syrian war episode may have entered its concluding chapter, but the Israeli-Iranian confrontation is opening a new one.
In the summer of 2018, the Assad regime reestablished its control over the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, restoring Syrian sovereignty and redeploying Syrian Army elements to their pre-war positions.
However, a deeper look at the developments across the Syrian-Israeli frontier reveals that the new reality is different from pre-civil war Syria. Today, Syrian military bases host a number of new actors, which include pro-Iranian militias, Russian military police, and reconfigured Syrian units. The local leadership and elements identified with the opposition – who informally governed these areas before the Assad regime reestablished control – have fled or been killed. In their place, stands a new security architecture that is based and supported, in part, by foreign actors.
Eight years of war have dramatically changed the face of the Syrian state. The Syria of the past no longer exists. Demographic and social changes have rearranged the country, which numbered 23 million people before the war.
Today, there are more than 5.6 million Syrian refugees living outside the country, the vast majority of whom are Sunni.
The numbers of those killed is reported to be at least 511,000. The Syrian army, which numbered some 200,000 soldiers before the war, quickly eroded and Assad remained in power, supported by mobilized militias that filled the ranks of his army. Continue reading