In Postwar Syria, It’s Hard to Tell Where the Assad Regime Ends and Iranian Control Starts

At the beginning of this year, southwestern Syria—which played a pivotal role at the start of the revolt against Bashar al-Assad’s rule—remained a major rebel stronghold. But that changed this summer, when Syrian, Iranian, and Russian forces successfully gained control of the area. The Assad regime is now arresting, kidnapping, and killing remaining resistance leaders—including several who had worked closely with Israel. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, don’t expect a return to the status quo ante:

[A] new dispensation in southwestern Syria is emerging. [Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its proxy militias—including Lebanese Hizballah and Iraqi groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq—are an integral part of it. A recent report on the Syrian Observer website provided details of a large Iranian base under construction in the Lajat area of Deraa province. . . . The report went on to describe the route taken by Iran-associated fighters from the Iraq-Syria border crossing at Abu Kamal to Lajat, under the supervision of IRGC personnel.

Evidence is also emerging of the presence of Hizballah personnel and other pro-Iranian Shiite militiamen in Syrian Arab Army uniforms among the regime forces returning to the border area with the Golan Heights. This is despite the nominal Russian commitment to keep such elements at least 85 kilometers from the border. This Iranian activity close to the border goes hand in hand with Tehran’s activity further afield, including the transfer of Shiites from southern Iraq to deserted Sunni neighborhoods.

Those who hoped for one kind of new Syria are being rounded up. . . . Iran, meanwhile, is busy creating a very different kind of new order. In it, an independent Iranian presence is intertwined with, and largely indistinguishable from, the body of the Syrian state itself, in a way not coincidentally analogous to the situation in Lebanon and Iraq (minus the nominal institutions of representative government).

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More about: Golan Heights, Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war

The Military Perils of Ceding Israeli Control of the West Bank

April 24 2019

In the years since the second intifada ended, no small number of retired high-ranking IDF officers and intelligence officials have argued that complete separation from the Palestinians is a strategic necessity for Israel. Gershon Hacohen, analyzing the geography, the changes in warfare—and Middle Eastern warfare in particular—since the 1990s, and recent history, argues that they are wrong:

The withdrawal of IDF forces from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state in these territories will constitute an existential threat to Israel. The absence of an Israeli military presence in the West Bank, especially along the Jordan River, will enable the creation of a terrorist entity, à la the Gaza Strip, a stone’s throw from the Israeli hinterland. This withdrawal will box Israel into indefensible borders, especially in light of the major changes in the nature of war in recent decades that have made the astounding achievements of 1967 impossible to replicate, not to mention the stark international response [that would follow Israel’s] takeover of a sovereign state.

The deployment of international forces in the West Bank will not, [contrary to what some have argued], ensure the demilitarization of the prospective Palestinian state, let alone prevent the entry of Arab forces into its territory (with or without its consent) and/or its transformation into a springboard for terrorist attacks against Israel. . . .

Israel [now] maintains control of some 60 percent of the West Bank’s territory, . . . which is mostly empty of Palestinian population but includes all of the West Bank’s Jewish communities and IDF bases, as well as main highways, vital topographic areas, and open spaces descending eastward to the Jordan Valley. The retention of this territory constitutes the absolute minimum required for the preservation of defensible borders and meets two conditions necessary for Israel’s security: the Jordan Valley buffer zone, without which it will be impossible to prevent the rapid arming of Palestinian terrorist groups throughout the West Bank; and control of intersecting transportation arteries, which, together with control of strategic topographical sites, enables rapid deployment of IDF forces deep inside Palestinian areas.

It is the surrender of such conditions in Gaza that has transformed the Strip into an ineradicable terrorist entity. Uprooting the West Bank’s Jewish communities will also make it difficult for the IDF to operate in the depth of the Palestinian state, especially if it is forced to fight simultaneously on a number of fronts, [since] simultaneous fighting in Gaza, which will be an integral part of the future Palestinian state, is a foregone conclusion.

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More about: Israeli grand strategy, Israeli Security, Palestinian statehood, West Bank