Why a Government Victory in Southwestern Syria Is Bad News for Israel

Last week, Russia negotiated a ceasefire between the Syrian government and rebel forces in the city of Daraa, where the initial protests that sparked the uprising against Bashar al-Assad began. The agreement ended a 75-day assault on the city, located near the country’s southwestern border, by Russian, Iranian, and Syrian forces. Jonathan Spyer explains the significance of these events:

The siege and the subsequent agreement bring an end to an anomalous situation that had [existed] in Daraa since . . . July 2018. Since that time, Russia had underwritten a situation in which former rebels were able to hold light weapons and maintain security inside the town. The regime, meanwhile, did not attempt to establish checkpoints or impose its rule in Daraa. The regime offensive under way since June was intended to terminate this situation and reimpose direct rule.

The shifting balance of power in this southwestern Syrian province matters to Israel, because Daraa province borders the Golan Heights. It is the location of an Iranian strategic project to establish and deploy forces under its control, with the intention of using them in a future clash between Jerusalem and Tehran.

From Israel’s point of view, the main obstacle to the consolidation and entrenchment of this Iranian project, other than Israel’s own military actions, has been the Russian presence in the area. The Russians do not support the Iranian project to build a capacity for aggression against Israel in southwestern Syria. Their own project of limited cooperation with former rebels appeared indeed to be pushing in the other direction.

The apparent Russian shift toward acquiescence to Iranian desires reflected in the Daraa agreement will thus not be welcomed in Jerusalem. Going together with increasing signs of Russian impatience with Israel’s air campaign against Iranian targets in Syria, it is an indication that any Israeli hopes that Russia might play a role in limiting Iran’s influence in Syria may have to be revised.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Golan Heights, Iran, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war

 

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy