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  • 26 April, 2021

  • 5 Min Read

What Israel wants in Syria?

What Israel wants in Syria?


  • Ten years since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria in 2011, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad seems to have won the civil war.

Background of Assad’s victory over the civil war

  • If in 2015, before the Russian intervention, Mr. Assad’s area of influence had shrunken to the largely Alawite-populated region stretching from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast, his troops now control most of Syria — except Idlib and the Kurdish territories.
  • The Kurds enjoy autonomy in the border region with Turkey, but have bought a delicate peace with Damascus.
  • In effect, Idlib, controlled by jihadists and rebels, and some towns on the border that are held by pro-Turkey militias are the only parts of the country that lie outside the sovereignty of the Syrian government.
  • The Syrian army turned around the war with help from Russia, Iran and several Iran-backed Shia militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah.
  • They are all still in Syria, which shares a border with Israel.
  • This means the civil war has intensified the Iran-Israel conflict.

Changing tactics

  • When the Syrian crisis unfolded in 2011-12, Israel took a ‘wait and watch’ approach, primarily because it preferred a stable regime in Damascus to the post-revolutionary chaos — despite the absence of a formal peace treaty, the Israeli-Syrian border has been largely uneventful since the 1970s.
  • But when Iran deployed militias and military assets in Syria in defence of Mr. Assad, it changed Israel’s calculus.
  • Across Israel’s northern border, the Hezbollah has already established a formidable presence.
  • Both Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon and the 2006 war on Lebanon were resisted by Hezbollah.
  • Israel would not like to have more Iran-backed Shia militias across the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and which has been the de facto border between the two countries ever since.
  • So, Israel changed its tactics.
  • It first started helping anti-Assad rebels in the Golan region by reportedly providing cash and medical aid.
  • The plan was to create a buffer between the Golan Heights and the rest of Syria so that the pro-Iran militias could be stopped from coming face-to-face with Israeli troops.
  • Later, after the tides turned in the civil war and Iran deepened its presence in Syria, Israel started bombing Iranian positions inside Syria.
  • Since September 2015, the Syrian air space has practically been controlled by the Russians.
  • But Russia looked away when Israel stepped up its bombings and Israel has been careful not to hit Russian positions in the overcrowded Syrian battlefield.

Three goals of Israel

  • Israel had three key goals:
    • disrupt Iranian supplies for Hezbollah and other Shia militias;
    • stop the militias advancing towards the de facto border; and
    • by continuously targeting them, weaken Iran’s presence in Syria.

Dozens of aerial attacks in recent past

  • In the last three years, Israel has carried out dozens of aerial attacks in Syria.
  • In retaliation, Syria has often fired anti-aircraft missiles.
  • In February 2018, Syria shot down an Israeli war plane.
  • Last week, an anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile, purportedly fired by the Syrian army, landed near Israel’s secretive nuclear facility in Dimona.
  • In response, Israel carried out a round of bombing in Syria.

Aids to Syria

  • For the Syrian government, support from Iran was a lifeline.
  • While Russia provided air power in the civil war, Iran supplied ground troops.
  • So, Mr. Assad did nothing to prevent the sprawling Iranian influence in his country despite Israeli attacks.
  • And Iran’s response to Israeli attacks has been only to deepen its footprints.

Syria as a new theatre in Israel-Iran conflict

  • As a result, Syria has emerged as a new theatre in the Israel-Iran geopolitical contest in West Asia, which could outlive the Syrian civil war.
  • Already, the conflict has spilled from Syria into the Mediterranean and Red Sea waters where both sides target each other’s ships.
  • With Israel determined to contain Iran’s growing influence in the region, at a time when the U.S. and other Western powers are reaching out to Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear deal which could leave it more powerful economically, the Israel-Iran contest is set to intensify further.

Source: TH

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