IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot on Monday briefed the members of the Political-Security Cabinet on the situation in Syria: the danger posed by the Iranian presence in post-civil war Syria and the meaning of the agreement signed earlier this month between the United States, Russia and Jordan, Israel’s Channel 1 TV reported.
The defense establishment claims the distance of pro-Iranians forces from Israel’s border (as short as 3 miles) set in the agreement does not matter as much as the agreement’s regional implications, most crucially the level of American involvement in the Middle East. Should the Trump administration follow Obama’s path and leave Syria’s future in Russia’s hands, trouble would surly ensue.
This is why Israel will continue its hectic efforts in the near future, to present to the White House its concern over Tehran’s plans under Russia’s protection. To that end, the head of IDF intelligence, Major General Herzi Halevi, left for Washington this weekend, to be followed by the head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat who will meet with his counterpart, General Herbert McMaster.
Still, Jerusalem believes that the superpowers will not be the ones to remove the Iranians from Syria, and Israel may be required to act to protect itself from Hitler’s successors.
In that context, it should be noted that, despite Eizenkot’s global statement to the contrary, distance does matter. In a reality where Iran will essentially be given a free hand in Syria by an ambitious President Putin and a disinterested President Trump, keeping the Shiite militias as far away from the border as possible is emerging as Israel’s key pragmatic policy.
On November 15, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said, after a two-day tour of the northern border: “We will not allow Iranian consolidation in Syria and we will not allow all of Syria to be turned into a front outpost against the State of Israel.”
Two wishes, only the latter of which appears achievable at this time. According to Israeli media, the defense establishment now believes that a compromise between enemies is needed with regard to the Iranian presence in Syria, since the Islamic Republic’s presence cannot be prevented completely and everywhere. And so, as reflected by Liberman’s assertion, what began with Israeli statements about the need to disinfect all of Syria from the presence of Iran and Hezbollah is moving towards a security policy that allows Iranian presence only in specifically defined parts of Syria – away from the border.
Israel is entering a new and quite frightening phase in its history of survival against its regional enemies, with a vastly more competent foe establishing a beachhead not a thousand but a few dozen miles away – with the Russians promising it’s only a temporary thing but refusing to say until when, and the US offering foggy notions about Iran’s presence being important to curb the bloodshed in Syria.
The fact is, Russia does not plan to leave Syria any time soon – Putin’s meeting in Sochi on the Black Sea a week ago, with the presidents of Turkey and Iran delivered this message, to which Washington is unable or unwilling to respond effectively at this point.
Indeed, the Russian and Iranian hegemony in Syria has become so certain, President Assad felt secure enough in his renewed control over his country that he chanced leaving on a short hop to Moscow to thank his benefactor there personally.
Here’s a curious note: in the current regional reshuffling of the rules, Israel’s most important ally in the Syrian conflict is ISIS, which still manages to bleed the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Iran’s proxy Hezbollah, even as Russian warplanes are decimating entire towns in an attempt to seal a victory. So, this Hanukkah, when you plan your charity giving, don’t forget to send something to the Islamic Caliphate…