Israeli interests in Syria

Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 595, p. 18, on Sept. 09, 2017

Since the start of the Syrian Revolution in March 2011, Israel’s public attitude has been hostile to the brutality of the Assad regime. But Tel Aviv’s real position was to prevent Assad from falling without a suitable substitute to understand the importance of protecting Israeli interests directly linked to the security of northern Israel. On this basis, Tel Aviv constantly pushed the international forces that participated in the Syrian conflict. It has also intensified the control of Syria’s interior through daily long-haul flights of unmanned aircrafts that almost do not leave its southern airspace and through intelligence from its allies in the region. Israel also continues to cooperate secretly with the Syrian opposition parties, sometimes and openly, with the invitation of politicians belonging to it, such as Kamal al-Labwani. Israel’s findings so far show that there is no alternative to Assad that fully protects its interests. But the most important point for Tel Aviv, now, is the Iranian presence and the growing influence of the Hezbollah terrorist organization in Syria. As the atmosphere evolves towards a political solution, Israel hasten to impose its terms. This is the reason for intense diplomatic activity lately.

In a simultaneous visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow and Israeli Mossad leader Yossi Kohen in Washington, Netanyahu met with Vladimir Putin, while Cohen with US National Security Advisor McMaster. My source, aware of what happened at the two meetings, gave me details of their results, which were negative and unsatisfactory for the Israeli side. General McMaster assured Cohen that Washington was not in a position to exert more pressure on the Russians over Iran’s presence in Syria and that it is currently focusing on the battle to fight ISIS in the northern part of the country and end the war as soon as possible. The director of Mossad returned empty-handed.

But also in Moscow, the atmosphere was not better. The Russian president avoided engaging in a long conversation with the Israeli prime minister. However, Benjamin Netanyahu was clear in his direct request that in any political solution in Syria the first step should be the withdrawal of the Iranian militias from the country. But the Russian President’s answer was clearer. He stressed that the Iranians are at present necessary to eliminate ISIS in the east of the country and that Moscow will not miss the opportunity that the international community accepts the Russian plan for a political solution in Syria which I analyzed in my article last week. Putin also stressed that Moscow is confident that the presence of Iran is not a threat to Israel. Netanyahu also returned with broken wings, without even getting a promise from Moscow that Iran would leave Syria in the future.

Following these negative results that Tel Aviv received from Moscow and Washington, it escalated its reaction. An Israeli official said Israel would target Assad if Iran and its militias were not forced to leave Syria before any political solution. Although this statement is more informative than realistic, it is certain that Moscow and Washington will take it seriously. Will we see some military movement inside Syria from the northern Israeli border? The next few months will clarify the landscape.