So Long as the Assad Clan is in Power, Syria Will Remain a Foe of the U.S. and Israel

After nine-and-a-half years of fighting, the Syrian civil war is at a lull, although probably a temporary one. There is little chance of Bashar al-Assad relinquishing power and Islamic State no longer holds significant territory. But the country remains divided into three parts: that ruled by Assad with the help of his Russian and Iranian allies, that held by Kurdish-led forces assisted by U.S. troops, and that held by Turkey and various Turkish-backed Islamist groups, the local al-Qaeda affiliate among them. Jonathan Spyer takes stock of the situation, and what it means for Israel:

U.S. policy in Syria, despite the erratic statements of President Trump regarding the [American military] presence in eastern Syria, is not without coherence. Its intention, via sanctions and pressure, is to keep the regime “boxed in,” unable to reconstruct the country, unable to reconsolidate its rule. Through such means as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, the U.S. is seeking to use its financial muscle to prevent the Assad regime from obtaining sufficient funds to begin to rebuild. In so doing, the U.S. is acting against the Russian and Iranian projects to entrench and expand the regime’s control.

Alongside the weakening of Iran, it is in Israel’s interest that Syria too remain isolated and weak, to enable this continued degradation of Iranian capabilities to continue. There is no reason to believe that a reconstituted and strengthened Assad regime would differ in its regional policy by even the slightest degree from the stance taken prior to March 2011 and the outbreak of the uprising. In the decade prior to the civil war, Assad pursued a policy of alliance with Iran and its “resistance axis” and uncompromising support for Lebanese Hizballah.

Both the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, meanwhile, are in favor of the rehabilitation of Assad, as part of a larger strategy of rebuilding the diplomatic center of the Arab world. This general project . . . is also good for Israel, since it is an effort to build an Arab alliance around a core of pro-Western states with de-facto or de-jure normalized relations with Israel.

However, it is erroneous to believe that Assad’s Syria can be a member of such an alliance. His interests and preferences will keep him firmly in the pro-Iran bloc and in close alliance with Russia. He will be happy to take any advantages offered by Arab diplomacy while retaining this orientation. Israel will need to make this case to its Arab partners in the period ahead.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy

An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security