Syria Could Have Had Peace with Israel. Instead, Its Rulers Chose Slaughter and Impoverishment

Exactly ten years ago yesterday, the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad made a stunning offer to American negotiators: he would cut ties with Iran, cease support for Hizballah and Hamas, and stop threatening Israel—in exchange for the Golan Heights. But a mere two weeks later, his troops started shooting peaceful protestors in the city of Daraa, and Assad launched a bloody war against his own people that has not yet come to an end. Frederic Hof, who was an America mediator between Damascus and Jerusalem at the time, reflects:

The destruction of Syria has been senseless. A Syrian president seemingly committed to retrieving [lost] territory in exchange for Syria’s strategic reorientation threw it all away. And for what? . . . One possibility is that Assad deliberately used violence to cancel his conditional peace commitments and escape U.S. mediation. No one forced him to make those commitments; he offered them all during a 50-minute meeting. One wonders, however, if in the weeks following his promise of full strategic reorientation, Assad had second thoughts about Iran’s likely reaction and the domestic political implications of peace. In any event he has all but deeded to Israel the land he said he wanted returned to Syria.

Ten years on, Assad hopes the U.S. will reengage him diplomatically and lavish reconstruction funds on him and his entourage. The view here is that such hopes are illusory.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have died. Countless Syrians have been maimed and traumatized, both physically and psychologically. Tens of thousands remain in regime torture chambers. All this to preserve a family business; a business that might have thrived and evolved politically into something more inclusive and representative if it had made pragmatic and humane choices a decade ago. But was it ever capable of doing so? Syria’s condition in 2021 suggests the answer: no.

Read more at Asharq al-Awsat

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Golan Heights, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war

In the Next Phase of the War, Israel’s Biggest Obstacles May Be Political Rather Than Military

To defeat Hamas, Israel will have to attack the city of Rafah, which lies on the border between Egypt and Gaza, and which now contains the bulk of the terrorist group’s fighting forces as well as, most likely, the Israeli hostages. Edward Luttwak examines how this stage of the war will be different from those that preceded it:

To start with, Rafah has very few of the high-rise apartment houses, condo towers, and mansions of Gaza City and Khan Yunis. This makes street-fighting much simpler because there are no multilevel basements from which many fighters can erupt at once, nor looming heights with firing positions for snipers. Above all, if a building must be entered and cleared room-by-room, perhaps because a high-value target is thought to be hiding there, it does not take hundreds of soldiers to search the place quickly.

Luttwak also argues that the IDF will be able to evacuate a portion of the civilian population without allowing large numbers of Hamas guerrillas to escape. In his view, the biggest challenge facing Israel, therefore, is a political one:

Israel will have to contend with one final hurdle: the fact that its forces cannot proceed without close coordination with Egypt’s rulers. President Sisi’s government detests Hamas—the Gaza offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood they overthrew—and shed no tears at the prospect of its further destruction in Rafah. However, they also greatly fear the arrival of a flood of Palestinians fleeing from the Israeli offensive.

As for the Israeli war cabinet, it is equally determined to win this war in Rafah and to preserve strategic cooperation with Egypt, which has served both sides very well. That takes some doing, and accounts for the IDF’s failure to move quickly into Rafah. But victory is Israel’s aim—and it’s not going to give up on that.

Read more at UnHerd

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security