“Assad’s Survival Is in Israel’s Best Interest” (Dr. Edy Cohen/BESA)
As US president Donald Trump started his term it was supposed that removal of al-Assad’s regime was not very high in his agenda. However as a Syrian toxic chemical attack occurred and al-Assad was blamed for that , he launched fifty-nine cruise missiles at the airport from which Syrian air force presumably had carried out the strike.
Despite how US acts one should notice that there is already lot of foreign intervention in Syria: Russia, Hizbollah etc are giving weapons and support to al Assad regime; Turkey has frequently attacked against Syrian Kurds; Iran has boots on the ground; US, Saudis etc are giving weapons to sc freedom fighters; Qatar i.a. are financing al Qaeda’s fighters and Kurds get support e.g from Iraq. Israel has prevented modern weaponry transfers from Syria to Lebanon with airstrikes.
“Assad’s Survival Is in Israel’s Best Interest” is the headline of new analysis by Dr. Edy Cohen from Israeli think-tank and institute BESA Center. According Dr. Cohen Assad’s regime’s longstanding pretense to raise the banner of all-out war against Israel, since the Yom Kippur War October 1973 the Syrian-Israeli border on the Golan Heights has been conspicuously quiet – neither Hafez Assad nor his son Bashar initiated a single military activity against Israel from Syrian territory. Today, as Syria no longer capably functions as a sovereign state, a strong Syrian president with firm control over the state is a vital interest for Israel.
When Trump started his term as US president it was believed that his agenda did not include removing the Syrian dictator from power. However after chemical attack the situation might have changed and there is speculations about the next ruler – dictator or democratically elected – of Syria and how will he relate to Israel?
Dr. Cohen asks how the Golan managed to remain quiet for over forty years until the March 2011 violent eruption and answers that during that period, the Syrian regime simply had no interest in starting a war with Israel, it even took care to avoid any confrontation on the Golan front.
Sure Syria supported the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups, and aided Hezbollah in terrorizing IDF soldiers during the IDF’s stay in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah received in -80s, together with the Shiite Amal movement, money and weapons from Tehran via Damascus, however Syria took care to avoid a direct confrontation with Jerusalem – instead Syria tried to obtain the Golan Heights by diplomatic means.
Dr Cohen describes how in 1976, with the entry of the Syrian army into Lebanon and fear of a confrontation between Syria and Israel, the so-called “red lines” were established. Damascus was forbidden to deploy its soldiers south of the Litani River, to introduce anti-aircraft missiles into Lebanon that would threaten the Israeli Air Force, and to harm the Lebanese Christians who were allied with Israel at the time.
According Dr. Cohen Israel needs a strong president in Lebanon too– not someone weak like Amin Gemayel, who buckled under domestic, and external Syrian and Iranian, pressure to cancel a peace agreement with Israel. The agreement, about which most Israelis know little, was concluded 34 years ago. In 1982, following the Lebanon War, the Israeli government negotiated with President Gemayel via US mediation. After a year of intensive negotiations, representatives of the three sides met on May 17, 1983 in a festive atmosphere in southern Lebanon and later in Kiryat Shmona to sign a peace agreement. That agreement was to bring about security and an ostensible normalization of relations between Lebanon and Israel and culminate in Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon within three months. It was ratified by the Israeli Knesset and the Lebanese Parliament – but President Gemayel bent to pressure and refused to sign.
Dr Cohen concludes that it is clearly not in Israel’s interest to have a president in one of its neighboring countries who cannot rule his own country. Israel is surrounded by enemies. It needs those enemies to be led by strong, stable rulers who will control their armies and prevent both the firing on, and infiltrations into, Israeli territory. Both the senior and junior Assads succeeded in this and continue to do so to this day, despite the many reports in recent years about Israeli attacks in the heart of Syria.
Syria is no longer able to function as a sovereign state, and this is bad for Israel. It is foundering in a mire of extremist militias (ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaysh al-Islam, Palestinian organizations like Ahmad Jibril’s Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, Quwat al-Jalil, and the forces of Padi Malih, as well as the moderate rebels). It is divided into several regions, each controlled by a different organization. With all the regret over the loss of and disrespect for human life, a strong Syrian president with firm control over the state is a vital interest for Israel. Given the Islamist alternatives to his rule, Syria’s neighbors, including Israel, may well come to miss him as Syria is rapidly Lebanonized. The country will be divided into several entities, each controlled by a separate group/sect. This will hardly be beneficial for Israel or for the Middle East as a whole.
An opposite view
Efraim Inbar, professor emeritus of political studies at Bar-Ilan University has totally opposite view to issue, a view which has also published in same BESA Perspective Papers than Dr. Cohen’s. Arguing that the continuation of Assad’s brutal regime is a vital Israeli interest does not make strategic sense. A Syria embroiled in a civil war has much less energy and means for hurting Israel than a strong Syria. Nor is the Syria of today able to wage an effective diplomatic and/or military campaign aimed at the return of the Golan. Above all, the survival of the Assad regime is a victory for Iran – the main source of trouble in the Middle East and Israel’s arch-enemy.
According Prof. Inbar, a dysfunctional Syrian state torn by civil war is not a result of Israeli machinations, but a positive strategic development from an Israeli point of view. What is left of the Syrian army is busy protecting the regime and trying to expand the territory it holds. It is not capable of challenging the Israeli army in a conventional war. A restored Syrian state, under Assad, will secure for Iran the Shiite corridor to the Mediterranean. An Iranian presence along Israel’s northern border is more threatening than warring Sunni militias.
(Source and more in BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 485, June 3, 2017: Assad Is Bad News By Prof. Efraim Inbar | PDF )
On religious side Syria has a variety of minorities such as the Protestants, the Chaldeans, the Armenians, the Roman Catholics, the Maronite Catholics, the Greek Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox etc. Indeed Syria has been a safe haven to many minorities surpressed elsewhere. So one can estimate that these religious groups are more afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood or any radical or fanatic group leading the country towards theocracy, better them to keep the current Syrian regime in place.
Speaking about events and their effects in Syria, the energy aspect can not be ignored. Syria is in the middle of two important energy corridors: It links Turkey and the Caspian See to Israel and the Red Sea and it links Iraq to the Mediterranean. There is also new huge energy sources in Eastern Mediterranean – first Leviathan and Tamar fields some 90 kilometres west of Haifa/Israel with estimated 24 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 4.3 billion barrels of oil. The existence of these energy fields is also the reason why the Kremlin has created a military foothold in Syria for the Russian Federation. Also Iran has interest to explore and help develop these natural gas fields off the Levantine coast for Beirut and Damascus. If the present regime in Syria falls the question is who would control these energy routes.
Late 2013 The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—along with certain Arab League countries, plus Turkey and Israel, have early December 2013 committed themselves to raising nearly $6 billion seed money for new Islamic Front (IF) in Syria. This coalition wants also USA to particapate onto a plan to oust the Syrian government by funding, arming, training and facilitating a front formed out of an alliance of seven “moderate” rebel factions. Beside of toppling the Assad regime the other benefit would be truncating Iran’s growing influence. The Kurdish Islamic Front also reportedly joined the alliance. None of these groups have been designated foreign terrorist organizations by the US, and therefore, nothing stands in the way of US funding and support for them.
It might be possible that during Obama Presidency USA did not implemented planned military intervention against Syria as its political leadership knew first that Syrian rebels had chemical weapons, second it knew that Al Assad regime maybe not used CW in Damascus August 2013 and third that Syrian opposition might on the end not be better alternative than Al Assad. Syria Updates: The New Islamic Front And Whodunnit III
On Aug. 2013 I concluded in my article as follows:
Arming rebels and pushing for military intervention will not solve the problem Syria is facing but indeed could lead to the death of thousands of Syrians and to the breaking-up of the country falling under the control of violent fundamentalist Jihadist forces. It will mean the further fleeing of Syrians into surrounding countries which will themselves become destabilised. The entire Middle East will then become unstable and violence will spiral out of control. Anyway if USA decides to bomb Syria wouldn’t the right address be Qatar-funded mercenaries led by Al Qaeda instead of the Assad regime.
The cases of Syria and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict indicate that the United States could be gradually retreating from the Middle East, Russia is now filling this vacuum. In Syria Moscow and Jerusalem have agreed to coordinate their actions in Syria as well as share intelligence. Intelligence-sharing also greatly benefits Moscow, which receives more balanced intelligence, allowing it to put into perspective the kind of information provided by its allies from the Baghdad coordination center.
Based on main issues during U.S. elections – e.g. have strong isolationist tendencies – it could be predicting President Donald Trump will watch the Mideast conflicts from the sidelines. I conclude that the opposite scenario is more realistic. Trump probably will develop pragmatic relationship with Russia and even make a deal with Putin to stabilize the (Great) Middle East and so there is no need to increase US ‘boots on the ground’ in region. Israel will be the main stabilizing actor in Mid-East so blocking Islamist Jihad as well decreasing refugee crisis which both factors serve Trump’s election campaign goals.
Israel and humanitarian aspect in Syria
Syria may officially be an enemy country, but that hasn’t stopped dozens of Israeli individuals, organizations and government bodies – including the Israel Defense Forces – from doing all they can to alleviate human suffering in the country, even though giving this aid is often dangerous.
Israeli aid to the country comes in many forms, much of it under the radar. Nonprofit organization Il4Syrians, which was founded by a private Israeli citizen at the start of the civil war in 2011, sends food, medicine, coats and basic supplies to Syrians in a perilous cross-border mission. With the help of transports organized by the IDF, some 2,500 Syrian men, women and children have received care in various Israeli hospitals at the expense of Israeli taxpayers and donors. The Israel Trauma Coalition trained clinicians, caregivers and volunteers in Berlin to treat Syrian refugees in that German city. Natan-International Humanitarian Aid, based in Tel Aviv, has provided trauma and post-trauma care to Syrian refugees in Jordan. The nonprofit IsraAID has been rescuing and providing many forms of assistance to Syrian and other Middle East and African refugees pouring into European countries.
(Source: ISRAEL21c )
Earlier: “Israel says Assad must stay” – front-page headline in The Times, London, 18 May 2013
Despite how USA acts one should notice that there is already lot of foreign intervention in Syria: Russia, Hizbollah etc are giving weapons and support to al Assad regime; US, Saudis etc are giving weapons to sc freedom fighters; Qatar etc are financing al Qaeda’s fighters and Kurds get support e.g from Iraq. The Israelis are privately reluctant supporters of the al-Assad regime. It is a known quantity, with whom negotiation within established parameters is possible. The alternative, of divided Sunni Islamist politics presenting a potentially existential danger to the Jewish state and the region as a whole, is all the more destabilising. EU is bystander as usual however ready to throw their money in when dirty job is done.
The problem in Syria is similar than in Libya. Thinking situation e.g after earlier planned Western intervention the problem in Syria could be the same as in Libya. It looks like there is no one in the Syrian rebel political or military leadership capable of taking over the reins of power in Damascus.
In my opinion the majority of the people of Syria are calling out for peace and reconciliation and a political solution to the crisis. The probable short term result will be dissolution of Syria – some kind of new balkanization or Somalization as it already happened in Iraq. The country might fragment, as Kurds and Alawites form their own mini-states. The positive outcome might be that second piece– after North Iraq – of Kurdistan will be established while it remains to see when regions from Iran and Turkey will join to this long-felt need. From my point of view with this kind of outcome the al-Assad Presidency is not a core question.