As President Obama prepares to visit Israel this week many Middle-East flash points will take up the discussions, and the Syrian civil war and tensions between the two countries will be high among them.
Tensions began in 1967 when Israeli forces captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the Six-day War. Israel began settling in the Golan region soon after the war and by 1970, twelve Israeli settlements existed there.
In 1973 Syrian forces tried to take back the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War, but their efforts were denied. After a ceasefire in 1974, Israel gave back a small strip of the area to the Syrians, but Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has declared the entire Golan Heights should be returned. Israel, however, refuses to make concessions.
Now the civil war in Syria presents new complications to the already unstable relationship. The Free Syrian Army, who is vying to overthrow Assad’s government, seeks arms to aid in the fight. While France and Great Briton have agreed to give the rebels arms, they have been blocked from doing so by the European Union.
The EU, like Israel, is concerned about arms falling into the hands of extremists who would provide a further threat. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry said the US will not give arms to the rebels but will not stand in the way of anyone who does. The US will supply $60 million in food and medical aid, but no money for weapons.
America’s position on Syria will certainly be a talking point for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyhu and President Obama in the days to come.
It seems that while the US wouldn’t mind seeing Assad’s regime overthrown, they don’t want to be caught in the middle of it by giving arms to the rebels. Providing the rebels with weapons would likely cause Syria’s allies, Iran, Russia and China to retaliate by giving military aid to Assad.
The US, who is currently withdrawing troops from the Middle East would not want to be dragged into another war.
A further potential problem lies with Lebanon. The Syrian government has warned the Lebanese that it is ready to strike border regions inside Lebanon where rebel forces have amassed near Tel Kalakah recently.
Lebanon has sought to disassociate itself from the conflict in Syria, but growing tensions inside Lebanon may bring about yet another Middle-East flash point as some inside Lebanon support the rebels while others support Assad’s regime.
Netanyhu and Obama will both bring full plates to the table during their visit.