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.

Read more at Jonathan Spyer

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

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

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