Russia’s Role in the Changing Face of Israel’s Syria Strategy

Over the weekend, an aerial attack destroyed a shipment of weapons intended for Hizballah fighters in Syria as it made its way overland from Lebanon. Although Jerusalem took no credit, the attack resembles hundreds of similar IDF strikes on arms and positions belonging to Iran and its proxies. Alex Fishman notes that, just a week beforehand, Naftali Bennett had his first meeting since taking office with Vladimir Putin, who has allied with Iran in backing up the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. In Fishman’s view, the timing isn’t coincidental:

Over the past months, according to Syrian opposition forces, Israel has intensified its military operations in Syria. While 2020 saw some 400 missiles allegedly fired by Israel at its neighbor to the northwest, the past year saw a 25-percent increase—and we’re only in November.

The Iranian activity in Syria has also very much changed. The overall presence of Iran’s advisers in Syria had already started to decrease in 2020, with the number of Iranian fighters dropping by some 50 percent. However, the quantity and quality of the weapons and supplies Tehran is shipping into Syria have increased.

Israel’s strategy, meanwhile, has remained the same: thwart Iran’s efforts to entrench itself more deeply in Syria. But when the rate and ferocity of attacks increases, Israel runs the risk of having this cold war turn hot. So why does Israel continue with this strategy and has even intensified its activity? The real change over the past months has not been with Israel or Iran, but with Russian policy towards Syria.

Moscow has realized that in order to bolster the regime of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad—and ensure his, and its own, continued hold on the region—it needs to begin bringing Syria out of its diplomatic isolation and to ramp up the rehabilitation efforts. . . . [Therefore], Moscow is pressuring Damascus to change its behavior in order to open itself to the rest of the world, with the weakening of Iran’s presence in Syria being a key part of achieving that goal.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war

Israel’s Friendship with Iraqi Kurds, and Why Iran Opposes It

In May 2022, the Iraqi parliament passed a law “criminalizing normalization and establishment of relations with the Zionist entity,” banning even public discussion of ending the country’s 76-year state of war with Israel. The bill was a response to a conference, held a few months prior, addressing just that subject. Although the gathering attracted members of various religious and ethnic groups, it is no coincidence, writes Suzan Quitaz, that it took place in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan:

Himdad Mustafa, an independent researcher based in Erbil, to whom the law would be applied, noted: “When 300 people gathered in Erbil calling for peace and normalization with Israel, the Iraqi government immediately passed a law criminalizing ties with Israel and Israelis. The law is clearly aimed at Kurds.” . . . Qais al-Khazali, secretary-general of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Coordination Framework), a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militia, slammed the conference as “disgraceful.”

Himdad explains that the criminalization of Israeli-Kurdish ties is primarily driven by “Kurd-phobia,” and that Kurd-hatred and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand.

One reason for that is the long history of cooperation Israel and the Kurds of Iraq; another is the conflict between the Kurdish local government and the Iran-backed militias who increasingly control the rest of the country. Quitaz elaborates:

Israel also maintains economic ties with Kurdistan, purchasing Kurdish oil despite objections from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. A report in the Financial Times discusses investments by many Israeli companies in energy, development sectors, and communications projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to providing security training and purchasing oil. Moreover, in a poll conducted in 2009 in Iraqi Kurdistan, 71 percent of Kurds supported normalization with Israel. The results are unsurprising since, historically, Israel has had cordial ties with the Kurds in a generally hostile region where Jews and Kurds have fought against the odds with the same Arab enemy in their struggles for a homeland.

The Iranian regime, through its proxies in the Iraqi government, is the most significant source of Kurd-phobia in Iraq and the driving factor fueling tensions. In addition to their explicit threat to Israel, Iranian officials frequently threaten the Kurdish region, and repeatedly accuse the Kurds of working with Israel.

Read more at Jersualem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Iraq, Israel-Arab relations, Kurds