Analysis: Syrian gambit – wrenching Assad from Iran’s embrace

Pressuring Assad to evict Iran from his territory is now Israel’s strategy.

By William Mehlman, World Israel News

As the nine-year war the Bashar Assad regime in Syria waged against ISIS and its Caliphatic delusions drew to a close, the death toll stood at 370,000, including 21,000 children among a total of 112,000  Syrian civilians, according to the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In possibly the greatest upheaval since the Second World War, 6.2 million people,  almost half the pre-war population of 13 million, have lost their homes and  5.6 million have become refugees over an expanse stretching from the Middle East to Central Europe.

The idea that this wreck of a nation would  risk the further exposure of its rubble-strewn terrain to a clash with Israel, on its own right, or at the behest of a less than welcome Iranian house guest, boggles the mind. Perhaps, however, as in the Purim story, a steely reality lurks beneath a porous facade.

The Assad regime’s unhappy reaction to Donald Trump’s blessing over Israel’s control of the Golan Heights was to be expected.

“The Golan Heights will remain Arab and Syrian regardless of the statements made  by the president of the United States,” declared an unnamed Syrian Foreign Ministry official, referencing Trump’s observation that “after 50 years it’s time for the United States to finally recognize Israel’s sovereignty.”

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The Syrian spokesman said Trump’s action illustrated America’s “blind bias” in favor of Israel and its “contempt” for International Law. Iran called  it “illegal and unacceptable.” Russia said it would harm the “partnership” between Moscow and Damascus, Turkey chipped in with a warning of  “increased violence” in the region and the Arab League reaffirmed its support of Syria’s right to the Golan.

Rather weak tea, all in all, as responses to political changes in the Middle East normally run.

What bespoke anything but weakness was the IDF’s announcement,  just days before Trump’s Golan move, that it had uncovered a fully outfitted terror cell  – explosives, machine guns, anti-tank weapons – in a Syrian Golan border village under the management of Hezbollah, Tehran’s Lebanese-based terror  proxy.

In a statement carried by The Times of Israel, the IDF said the cell was designed to “eventually control teams of Syrian operatives who will launch attacks against Israel.”

Despite being described as “old news” by critics wary of Hezbollah’s  threatened Golan encroachment being used to influence voting in Israel’s April 9th national election, Brigadier General Amit Fisher said that his IDF Golan Division would “act with all our might to force this terrorist organization out of the Golan Heights and ensure the stability of the region.”

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The IDF claims that knowledge of Hezbollah’s  Golan terror cell and its intelligence activities was withheld from the Assad regime which, with the civil war now behind it, “might be interested in  stabilizing the region rather than having it again become a combat zone,” as  TOI’s Judah Ari Gross submits.

That intriguing possibility was underscored by JINSA President and CEO Michael Makovsky  following recent talks in Israel with “senior security officials.” He reports being told that in addition to targeting the Islamic Republic’s assets directly, Israel’s strategy was now focused on “pressuring Bashar Assad to evict Iran from his territory.”

While he’d almost certainly need Vladimir Putin’s thumb on the scale  to pull it off, Makovsky thinks Assad has a fighting chance of success if he can make the case that ”Iranian entrenchment in Syria has become an obstacle to his regime’s stabilization and normalization,” most importantly his ability to attract foreign economic support and investment.

Why might Putin ultimately throw his weight behind an Assad move to get the Iranians off his turf?  Because, as Makovsky was evidently convinced of  by the security brass he huddled with in Israel, “Russia considers the stability of the Alawite [Assad] regime a preeminent interest.” And as Putin and Assad both know, that’s a non-starter as long as Iran and Hezbollah remain its house guests.

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