Without a Major Shift in U.S. Policy, There’s Little Hope for Syria in 2018

Jan. 16 2018

Some Western commentators have concocted sanguine scenarios whereby either Iran or Russia will lose its resolve to continue expending blood and treasure propping up Bashar al-Assad’s rule, or will be motivated to reach some sort of compromise agreement regarding the country’s future in the interest of “stability.” Frederic Hof finds such scenarios highly unlikely:

Might ongoing instability in Iran persuade the Ayatollah Khamenei to cut losses in Syria? Probably not. If he decides to toss a bone to Iran’s public, it is not likely to be Syria. The jewel in the crown of Iranian regional policy under current management is Lebanon’s Hizballah, for which Syria is vital. Hizballah’s reliance on Syria for strategic depth and for a logistical link to its Iranian home base will not decrease. . . . [Furthermore], those often described as the Islamic Republic’s “moderates,” “pragmatists,” and even “reformers” have never downplayed the importance of Hizballah to the health and well-being of the operation for which they front.

Other observers profess to see hope in the prospect of Russia nudging Assad toward the exit. [But] there is scant evidence that [Vladimir Putin] has either the power or the will to compel any such thing.

The [Assad] regime itself evaluates power-sharing in a manner identical to any criminal enterprise: as a death warrant. Although Russian airpower has been important in stabilizing the regime militarily, it is Iran that is the key to Assad’s political survival. And if the malfeasance, corruption, and violence of the ruling entourage drive millions more Syrians in the direction of Turkey and Western Europe, so much the better from the Kremlin’s point of view. Indeed, the very prospect of mass migration will fuel Russian attempts to blackmail Europe into offering tribute to its Syrian client. . . .

If hope is to have any realistic role to play in Syria in 2018, the West at long last will have to see the Assad regime as the security threat it has always been. No, this is not a call for violent regime change. The starting point for Western self-defense in Syria is civilian protection. The Obama administration threw away [opportunities to protect civilians] quite gratuitously to appease Iran. A West [committed to] defending itself will, at the very least, get serious about determining ways and means to frustrate, complicate, punish, and block the collective-punishment actions of a Syrian regime for which no crime is so vile as to be avoided.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank