How Israel Can Best Pursue Its Interests in Syria

September 19, 2023 | Jonathan Spyer
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For the past few weeks, there have been protests and riots in the Syrian city of Suwayda—an area that long seemed firmly under the regime’s control—calling for Bashar al-Assad to relinquish power. The unrest suggests that, even as Damascus has crushed the major pockets of resistance, its grip on the war-torn country remains unstable. Meanwhile, the IDF continues its yearslong “war between the wars” against Iran-linked military targets in Syria, having struck as recently as last week. Jonathan Spyer examines Israel’s current strategic position regarding its northern neighbor:

Israel’s primary goal in Syria is the halting of the advance of Iranian influence and [military capabilities] in the country. From an Israeli point of view, the current diplomatic situation in Syria—in which the regime remains isolated by the West, and without major reconstruction efforts underway from Western companies or states—is the ideal background for the continued prosecution of the Israeli military efforts against Iranian entrenchment and consolidation on Syrian soil.

Thus, Israel should use all available diplomatic channels to encourage the West to maintain . . . the continued isolation of the Assad regime. If Assad succeeds in ending his isolation and normalizing relations with the West, it is a near inevitability that at a certain point U.S. pressure on Israel would begin to induce it to cease its military campaign on Syrian soil, on the grounds that the conflict has finished, Syria is now a normal actor on the international stage, etc.

Similarly, the continued de-facto partition of Syria is a clear Israeli interest. The control [of the northeastern third of country] by the U.S. and its Kurdish allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces constitutes an incomplete but significant barrier to Iranian freedom of movement and action between Iraq and Syria.

Even the Sunni Islamist, Turkish-dominated enclave in the northwest of the country offers an advantage to Israel in that its presence keeps the regime weakened, prevents it from focusing on the reconquest of the southeast, and prevents the regime from extending its rule across the country and thus normalizing its situation. Thus, Israel should encourage Turkey in the direction of continued opposition to the Assad regime, and maintenance of its area of control in Syria.

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