The civil war in Syria seems to be nearing its end. The armed forces of Bashar Assad, the imminent overthrow of which was predicted in the spring of 2011 at the beginning of the Syrian uprising by the then Minister of Defense (Israel – SD) Ehud Barak, are becoming more powerful and confident every day. With Russian air support and massive assistance from pro-Iranian armed groups, namely Hezbollah, the regime managed to regain power in two-thirds of the country’s territory, systematically destroying the rebel forces (along with hundreds of thousands of innocent civilian Syrians).
More recently, the regime has fully recovered the Syrian Golan Heights – from the Damascus region to the Jordanian border in the south and to the Israeli border in the west. Thousands of local residents fled to the area near the border with Israel, which helped them with food and medical assistance, and transported civilian refugees to Jordanian territory, thus saving them from imminent death.
Interestingly enough, recent events have taken place with widely-consulted Israel not publicized. The Russian Defense Minister and the Chief of the General Staff, accompanied by a group of senior officers, visited Israel in mid-July in order to coordinate the military activities of Russia and Israel in Syria. This represents a step forward in the ongoing Israeli-Russian dialogue on the Syrian conflict. Among other things, an understanding was reached of the redeployment of pro-Iranian armed formations and of their future stay in Syria.
The Iraqi Air Force is operating in the control zones of Russia.
Over the years, Israel has led – mostly a secret – campaign against the approval of Tehran’s military presence in Syria, whether in the form of Shiite armed proxy formations or in the form of deliveries of Hezbollah’s advanced weapons systems. Iran’s lackluster response to hundreds of Israeli air strikes (declarations for which it was not made) during this period, of course, was an indicator of its inability to fight Israel’s air superiority.
In recent months, however, there has been an escalation of direct confrontation between Jerusalem and Tehran in the form of an exchange of harsh actions between the IDF and the forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in Syria, during which dozens of Iranian soldiers and officers were killed. This confrontation points to Israel’s willingness to take the risk of direct confrontation with Tehran by achieving its strategic goals of ending the Iranian military presence in Syria. And, it seems, Jerusalem is at present satisfied with the implementation of Moscow’s promises (made, among others, during Putin’s talks with Netanyahu) regarding the preservation of this presence at some distance from the Israeli border.
At the same time, Washington’s withdrawal from Iran’s nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 (CAPA) and the restoration of international sanctions, it is possible, will restrain Tehran’s regional expansionism and encourage it to reconsider its ongoing military presence in Syria. It can also trigger a process of unrest within the country that could result in the fall of the Islamist regime – although such an outcome is much less likely.
Similarly, Hezbollah has not yet fully overcome all the consequences of its invasion of Syria. And the constant gloating of its leader Hasan Nasrallah, who comes from his Beirut shelter, where he hides since the 2006 Lebanon war, can hardly hide this reality. Due to increasing financial difficulties, intensified economic crisis in Iran, Hezbollah was forced to reduce the payment of monetary maintenance to its “operators”. As a result of this, as well as the growing discontent of many Lebanese Shiites with Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria, it is difficult to recruit new fighters who would fill the gaps in the thinning ranks. (The organization, however, still has more than 100,000 missiles capable of hitting targets in Israel.)
In these circumstances, the return of the Assad regime to the Syrian Golan is strategically beneficial to Israel, especially in the light of mutual understanding with Moscow, with tacit approval by Damascus that the situation on the Israeli-Syrian border will be based on the status quo established by the Syrian-Israeli disengagement agreement of May 1974 . During the entire 40-year period that has passed since the signing of this agreement and before the start of the Syrian civil war along the Israeli-Syrian border, the state of peace was de facto preserved.
President is planning to seize the territories of foreign states. Due to the fact that during the civil war the Syrian armed forces were beheaded and the civilian population experienced destruction and chaos, almost half were either killed , or wounded, or become refugees, Assad will need to focus on consolidating his power, rebuilding the country and guaranteeing the continuation of rule by a tiny Alawite minority. Under these circumstances, military confrontation with Israel will not only bring no conceivable benefits, but most likely, will crush the fragile process of restoration of the regime.