Syria Remains Divided, Devastated, and Dangerous. Where Does That Leave Israel?

While the U.S. and its allies have crushed Islamic State in northeastern Syria, and Bashar al-Assad—with the help of Iran and Russia—has eliminated all but a few rebel redoubts, the country is hardly at peace. Eden Kaduri and Jony Essa assess the current situation, and where it leaves Israel:

After eleven years of civil war, Syria is divided, subject to the influence of foreign forces, and suffering from a severe economic and humanitarian crisis. This transitional period is an opportunity for Israel to influence the future shape and stability of its northern neighbor. To be sure, the Assad regime remains obligated to Iran and does not intend to break off relations with it, even in order to return to the Arab world and obtain essential economic aid. Moreover, Iran is expected to increase its influence in Syria as Russia’s involvement is cut back due to the war in Ukraine. However, Assad will try to limit the presence and military visibility of Iran in his country in order to avoid paying the price of Israeli attacks.

Israel must therefore continue working to block Iranian entrenchment in Syria and the military threat that it poses—and in order to provide Assad with grounds and leverage to remove Iran from Syrian territory. This means a continuation of the aerial attacks, while retaining the mechanism of coordination with Russia, and improving the efforts to achieve more meaningful and long-term influence. In this framework, Syria should be seen as a divided nation, and Israel should work on building special ties with potential local allies, in particular the Kurds in the northeast of the country and the Druze in the south.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Kurds, Syrian civil war

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount