In Postwar Syria, It’s Hard to Tell Where the Assad Regime Ends and Iranian Control Starts

At the beginning of this year, southwestern Syria—which played a pivotal role at the start of the revolt against Bashar al-Assad’s rule—remained a major rebel stronghold. But that changed this summer, when Syrian, Iranian, and Russian forces successfully gained control of the area. The Assad regime is now arresting, kidnapping, and killing remaining resistance leaders—including several who had worked closely with Israel. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, don’t expect a return to the status quo ante:

[A] new dispensation in southwestern Syria is emerging. [Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxy militias—including Lebanese Hizballah and Iraqi groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq—are an integral part of it. A recent report on the Syrian Observer website provided details of a large Iranian base under construction in the Lajat area of Deraa province. . . . The report went on to describe the route taken by Iran-associated fighters from the Iraq-Syria border crossing at Abu Kamal to Lajat, under the supervision of IRGC personnel.

Evidence is also emerging of the presence of Hizballah personnel and other pro-Iranian Shiite militiamen in Syrian Arab Army uniforms among the regime forces returning to the border area with the Golan Heights. This is despite the nominal Russian commitment to keep such elements at least 85 kilometers from the border. This Iranian activity close to the border goes hand in hand with Tehran’s activity further afield, including the transfer of Shiites from southern Iraq to deserted Sunni neighborhoods.

Those who hoped for one kind of new Syria are being rounded up. . . . Iran, meanwhile, is busy creating a very different kind of new order. In it, an independent Iranian presence is intertwined with, and largely indistinguishable from, the body of the Syrian state itself, in a way not coincidentally analogous to the situation in Lebanon and Iraq (minus the nominal institutions of representative government).

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Golan Heights, Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war

Israel Should Try to Defang Hamas without Toppling It

Feb. 22 2019

For the time being, Hamas has chosen to avoid outright war with the Jewish state, but instead to apply sustained, low-intensity pressure through its weekly border riots and organizing terrorist cells in the West Bank. Yet it is simultaneously engaged in a major military build-up, which suggests that it has not entirely been deterred by the previous three Gaza wars. Yaakov Lappin considers Jerusalem’s options:

In recent years, the Israel Defense Force’s southern command, which is responsible for much of the war planning for Gaza, identified a long-term truce as the best of bad options for Israel. This is based on the understanding that an Israeli invasion of Gaza and subsequent destruction of the Hamas regime would leave Israel in the unenviable position of being directly in charge of some two-million mostly hostile Gazans. This could lead to an open-ended and draining military occupation. . . .

Alternatively, Israel could demolish the Hamas regime and leave Gaza, putting it on a fast track to a “Somalia model” of anarchy and violence. In that scenario, . . . multiple jihadist armed gangs lacking a central ruling structure would appear, and Israel would be unable to project its military might to any single “return address” in Gaza. This would result in a loss of Israel’s deterrent force on Gaza to keep the region calm. This scenario would be considerably worse than the current status quo.

But a third option, in between the options of leaving Gaza as it is and toppling Hamas in a future war, may exist. In this scenario, the IDF would decimate Hamas’s military wing in any future conflict but leave its political wing and police force in place. This would enable a rapid Israeli exit after a war, but avoid a Somalia-like fate for Gaza with its destructive implications for both Israelis and Gazans. . . .

On the one hand, Hamas’s police force is an intrinsic support system for Gaza’s terrorist-guerrilla forces. On the other hand, the police and domestic-security units play a genuine role in keeping order. Such forces have been used to repress Islamic State-affiliated cells that challenge Hamas’s rule. . . . Compared to the alternative scenarios of indefinite occupation or the “Somalia scenario,” a weakened Hamas might be the best and most realistic option.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security