The U.S. Must Maintain Its Leverage over Russia in Syria. Israel Can Help

April 12 2018

Donald Trump—who recently announced an imminent American withdrawal from Syria—is now considering the possibility of punishing Bashar al-Assad for his recent use of chemical weapons. Michael Doran has some advice for the president:

A precipitous [U.S.] departure [from Syria] will cede leverage to Iran at the very moment when the United States-Iranian conflict is set to escalate. On May 12, President Trump may well decide to reimpose nuclear sanctions on the Islamic Republic. Restructuring the nuclear deal to American specifications requires convincing Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, that America is resolute in its determination to pare down the Iranian nuclear program. Retreating from Syria will foster the opposite impression. Trump should instead be thinking of exploiting Iranian weaknesses.

Here the Israelis are the key. Their [presumed] attack on Monday on an Iranian base in the Syrian desert is striking not just for the military and intelligence capabilities it demonstrated but also for its defiance of Vladimir Putin. Boldness and ability of this magnitude in an ally is a four-star asset that Trump’s Mideast policy has so far failed to exploit.

Imagine if Washington and Jerusalem were to develop a joint military plan designed to contain and degrade Iranian forces in Syria. Even a limited American military commitment to a coordinated United States-Israeli strategy would immediately change the balance of power on the ground. It would most likely engender more diplomatic cooperation from Putin while sending a powerful message to Tehran about the necessity of respecting American demands regarding its nuclear program.

Going forward, Trump should . . . keep mum about his plans. Meantime, he should reconsider his intention to withdraw. As it is, the United States has a small footprint in Syria—an estimated 2,000 troops. The right strategy could reduce those numbers further while gaining even more of that precious commodity over Iran and Russia: leverage.

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More about: Donald Trump, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

The U.S. Should Recognize Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan Heights

July 19 2018

Since the 1970s, American governments have sporadically pressured Jerusalem to negotiate the return of the Golan to Syria in exchange for peace. Had Israel given up this territory, Iranian forces would now be preparing to establish themselves on its strategically advantageous high ground. Michael Doran, testifying before the House of Representatives, argues that for this and other reasons, Congress should recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. (Video is available at the link below.)

Between 1949 and 1967, [the period during which Syria held the Golan], thousands of clashes erupted [there]. By contrast, ever since Israel took control of the Golan Heights in June 1967, they have served as a natural buffer between the two belligerents. The last 70 years serve as a laboratory of real life, and the results [of the experiment conducted therein] are incontrovertible: when in the hands of Syria, the Golan Heights promoted conflict. When in the hands of Israel, they have promoted stability. . . .

From the outbreak of the [Syrian] civil war, Iran and Russia have worked aggressively to shape the conflict so as to serve their interests. The influence of Iran is particularly worrisome because, in the division of labor between Moscow and Tehran, Russia provides the air power while Iran provides much of the ground forces. . . . Thanks to Iran’s newfound ground presence [in Syria], it is well on the way to completing a so-called “land bridge” stretching from Tehran to Beirut. There can be no doubt that a major aim of the land bridge is to increase the military pressure on Israel (and Jordan, too). . . .

Would Americans ever consciously choose to place Iranian soldiers on the Golan Heights, so that they could peer down their riflescopes at Jewish civilians below? Is there any American interest that would be served by allowing Iran to have direct access to the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s primary water reservoir? Would it ever be wise to place Iranian troops [where they could] serve as a wedge between Jordan and Israel? The answer to all of these questions, obviously, is no. And the clearest way to send that message to the world is to pass a law recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.

As for the claim that the Jewish state’s seizure of the Golan in 1967 violates international law, Doran notes that Washington undermined this claim with its attempts in the 1990s to broker a deal between Jerusalem and Damascus:

The ready American (and Israeli) acceptance of the June 4, 1967 cease-fire line [as the basis for such a deal] is nothing short of startling. That line . . . leaves Syria in possession of territory along the shores of the Sea of Galilee and elsewhere that it acquired by force in 1948. In other words, to win over its enemy, [Syria], the Clinton administration dispensed with the principle of the impermissibility of the acquisition of territory by force—the very principle that the United States has remained ever-vigilant in applying to its ally, Israel.

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More about: Congress, Golan Heights, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy