In Syria, a Partially Victorious Russia Still Faces Difficulties

While it became commonplace years ago for Western diplomats to claim that “there is no military solution” to Syria’s civil war, notes Alexander Bick, Vladimir Putin has disproved the claim by helping Bashar al-Assad defeat the opposition forces in much of the country. Yet Moscow still confronts serious obstacles to achieving a lasting political settlement, and there are indications that the Kremlin is growing frustrated with Assad. Bick writes:

The challenges for Russia are daunting. The first is military: Turkey and the United States stand in the way of a complete victory, leaving a major concentration of hardened fighters and extremists in Idlib province, close to Russia’s Hmeimim airbase, and denying the government access to oil and gas resources in the east. While the future of the U.S. military presence is uncertain, Turkey’s military build-up suggests it is planning to stay. At the same time, an insurgency is brewing in the south, an area in which Russia was deeply involved in a series of de-escalation agreements and where Russian military police continue to patrol.

Politically, Assad has once again dug in his heels, undermining even the modest aspirations of the UN-led process to reform Syria’s constitution that Russian officials initially touted as an important step on a “long road” to peace.

[But] on balance Putin’s intervention in Syria continues to look to many Russians, and others, like a major success. The military threat to Assad’s rule is over. Russia has tested and found new markets for its weapons systems. Its relationships with Iran, Turkey, Israel, and the Gulf states have all deepened, and its prestige in the region has been greatly enhanced. Nevertheless, it is hard to see where further gains will come from, and there may be heavier costs if the situation deteriorates further.

[But] for the time being, Assad and Russia still need one another. It may be that Moscow is prepared to accept Syria as a failed state in which Russia can continue to act as an arbiter among regional and international powers, while waiting for opportunities to emerge in the future.

Read more at Wilson Center

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Syrian civil war, Vladimir Putin


An Israeli Buffer Zone in the Gaza Strip Doesn’t Violate International Law

 The IDF announced on Thursday that it is safe for residents to return to some of the towns and villages near the Gaza Strip that have been abandoned since October 7. Yet on the same day, rocket sirens sounded in one of those communities, Kibbutz Mefalsim. To help ensure security in the area, Israel is considering the creation of a buffer zone within the Strip that would be closed to Palestinian civilians and buildings. The U.S. has indicated, however, that it would not look favorably on such a step.

Avraham Shalev explains why it’s necessary:

The creation of a security buffer along the Gaza-Israel border serves the purpose of destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and eliminating the threat to Israel. . . . Some Palestinian structures are practically on the border, and only several hundred yards away from Israeli communities such as Kfar Aza, Kerem Shalom, and Sderot. The Palestinian terrorists that carried out the murderous October 7 attacks crossed into Israel from many of these border-adjacent areas. Hamas officials have already vowed that “we will do this again and again. The al-Aqsa Flood [the October 7th massacre] is just the first time, and there will be a second, a third, a fourth.”

In 2018 and 2019, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad organized mass marches towards the Israeli border with the goal of breaking into Israel. Billed by Palestinians as “the Great March of Return,” its name reveals its purpose—invasion. Although the marches were supposedly non-violent, they featured largescale attacks on Israeli forces as well as arson and damage to Israeli agriculture and civilian communities. Moreover, the October 7 massacre was made possible by Hamas’s prepositioning military hardware along the border under false cover of civilian activity. The security perimeter is intended to prevent a reprise of these events.

Shalev goes on to dismantle the arguments put forth about why international law prohibits Israel from creating the buffer zone. He notes:

By way of comparison, following the defeat of Nazi Germany, France occupied the Saar [River Valley] directly until 1947 and then indirectly until reintegration with Germany in 1957, and the Allied occupation of Berlin continued until the reunification of Germany in 1990. The Allies maintained their occupation long after the fall of the Nazi regime, due to the threat of Soviet invasion and conquest of West Berlin, and by extension Western Europe.

Read more at Kohelet

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, International Law, Israeli Security