Report: Israel pushing for buffer zone with Syria

Israeli tank in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights on the border with Syria / AP
• April 18, 2013 4:00 pm


JERUSALEM — A Jordanian news website reported Wednesday that Israeli diplomats and army officers met in Amman recently with representatives of the Syrian opposition to discuss the possibility of a buffer zone separating the Israeli-held Golan Heights from Syria proper.

The Mouab website quoted Syrian opposition sources as saying the Israeli embassy in Jordan recently contacted members of the Syrian opposition living in Jordan to invite them for "consultation" inside the embassy. Some of the Syrians refused outright to meet with the Israelis while others agreed to meet with them outside the embassy.

The Mouab report was cited by the Times of Israel, which noted there was no confirmation from other sources.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, Yigal Palmor, declined comment. "As a matter of principle, we do not comment on such rumors," he said.

Meetings were reportedly held between opposition representatives and the Israeli negotiators in upscale restaurants and hotels in Amman. The Israelis, who were said to speak fluent Arabic, are believed to have explored the creation of a buffer zone on the Syrian side of the border with the Golan Heights.

There have been frequent skirmishes in the area in recent months between Syrian army troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and forces aligned with the opposition, including Jihadists. Israel would be interested in seeing relatively moderate, non-Islamic opposition groups hold the territory along the border so as to preserve the calm that has prevailed there for the past 40 years and prevent the Jihadists from turning their guns on Israel.

Israel has set up a field hospital on the border and for the past few months has been treating wounded opposition fighters, hospitalizing the more seriously wounded inside Israel. At the same time, Israeli troops, which have reinforced the border, are firing into Syria, generally at Syrian army positions, whenever shells or bullets hit inside Israeli territory.

However, Israel is more concerned about Jihadi militias entrenching themselves along the border than about the Syrian army.

Israel had established a buffer zone in Lebanon in 1982, which was administered by the largely Christian South Lebanese Army, a force organized and backed by Israel. The zone collapsed when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000.

Additionally, 200 troops from the First Armored Division have been ordered to Jordan to reinforce the few dozen American soldiers, mostly Special Forces, who have been stationed near the Syrian border for the past year alongside Jordanian forces.

A Defense Department official told CNN the deployment will give the United States the ability to "potentially form a joint task force for military operations, if ordered." The decision by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is among signs of American readiness to intervene in Syria. The Pentagon had drawn up plans to send in up to 20,000 troops to prevent Syria’s large reserves of chemical weapons from falling into the hands of radical elements.

Published under: Israel, Jordan, Middle East, Syria