Despite Recent Developments, the Syria-Iran Alliance Isn’t Going Anywhere

According to reports that first appeared in the Arab press, the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad last week expelled the commander of Iranian forces in his country. The reports, if true, run contrary to much evidence that Assad is the junior partner in his alliance with the Islamic Republic. More importantly, the news has raised hopes of a possible rift between Tehran and Damascus, encouraged further by signs of reconciliation between Syria and the Persian Gulf states. David Adesnik argues that those hopes are unfounded, and that the theory of an emerging split between the longtime allies contains two logical flaws:

First, it presumes that Assad is prepared to trade the certainty of Syria’s 40-year partnership with Iran for the potential benefits of improving relations with the Gulf states. Recall, these are the very states that bankrolled the insurgents who almost brought down the regime.

Second, there is a tendency to forget that the war in Syria is far from over, with Iranian advisers and Shiite militias still playing a critical role—hence the presence in Damascus of Javad Ghaffari, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander apparently expelled last week.

The war in northwestern Syria remains bloody. . . . Assad is likely biding his time. His own ground forces are dilapidated, and Russia fights mainly from the air, so the regime still depends on Shiite militias organized and directed by Tehran to carry out its military operations. The most effective is Hizballah, but there are significant Iraqi and Afghan Shiite formations as well.

Assad has every reason to believe that his diplomatic rehabilitation will continue even if he remains as close to Tehran as ever. Arab kings and princes may come bearing gifts, but they cannot buy the loyalty that Tehran has earned.

Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Iran, Middle East, Syria


Israel’s Retaliation against the Houthis Sends a Message to the U.S., and to Its Arab Allies

The drone that struck a Tel Aviv high-rise on Thursday night is believed to have traveled over 2,000 kilometers, flying from Yemen over Egypt and then above the Mediterranean before veering eastward toward the Israeli coast. Since October, the Houthis have launched over 200 drones at Israel. Nor is this the first attempt to strike Tel Aviv, only the first successful one. Noah Rothman observes that the Houthis’ persistent attacks on Israel and on international shipping are largely the result of the U.S.-led coalition’s anemic response:

Had the Biden administration taken a more proactive and vigorous approach to neutralizing the Houthis’ capabilities, Israel would not be obliged to expand to Yemen the theater of operations in the war Hamas inaugurated on October 7. The prospects of a regional war grow larger by the day, not because Israel cannot “take the win,” as President Biden reportedly told Benjamin Netanyahu following a full-scale direct Iranian attack on the Jewish state, but because hostile foreign actors are killing its citizens. Jerusalem is obliged to defend them and the sovereignty of Israel’s borders.

Biden’s hesitancy was fueled by his apprehension over the prospect of a “wider war” in the Middle East. But his hesitancy is what is going to give him the war he so cravenly sought to avoid.

In this context, the nature of the Israeli response is significant: rather than follow the American strategy of striking isolated weapons depots and the like, IDF jets struck the port city of Hodeida—the sort of major target the U.S. has shied away from. The mission was likely the furthest-ever carried out by the Israel Air Force, hitting a site 200 kilometers further from Israel than Tehran. Yoel Guzansky and Ilan Zalayat comment:

The message that Israel sent was intended to reach the moderate Arab countries, the West, and especially the United States. . . . The message to the coalition countries is that “the containment” had failed and the Houthis must be hit harder. The Hodeida port is the lifeline of the Houthi economy and continued damage to it will make it extremely difficult for this economy, which is also facing significant American sanctions.

Read more at National Review

More about: Houthis, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy