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

Sept. 17 2021

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.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

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

 

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia