Axis of Least Resistance: Bashar al-Assad now Israel's ally, claims media analysis

Axis of Least Resistance: Bashar al-Assad now Israel's ally, claims media analysis
Israel is keen for Assad to remain in power and defeat his opponents now that it has strong leverage with him through Russia, according to report in local daily Haaretz.
3 min read
03 July, 2018
Israel's cozy relationship with Putin (R) gives it strong leverage over Assad (L) [Getty]
Israel is keen for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power and defeat the opposition now that Tel Aviv holds leverage with him through Russia, according to a report in Israeli daily Haaretz.

Six years after the start of the Syrian conflict - triggered by the regime's crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2011 - Israel "is acting as if it is now reformulating its policy and becoming reconciled to Assad's continued rule", wrote Zvi Bar'el on Tuesday.

This marks a departure from Israel's initial position in which it remained largely neutral in the conflict, with the exception of providing limited assistance to fringe rebel groups near the border, in the hope of establishing a Syrian buffer zone. Airstrikes inside Syria are meant to contain Iran's military footprint there.

According to Bar'el - citing Israeli foreign ministry sources - the Israeli establishment has long been split even on whether or not to denounce Assad. 

These "diplomatic acrobatics", wrote Bar'el, convinced Syrian rebel leaders "that Israel wanted Assad to remain in power...[and] they were right".

Position papers drafted by the Israeli army and the foreign ministry over the past two years "didn't actually voice support for the Syrian president, but their assessments show that they viewed his continued rule as preferable or even vital for Israel's security".

The new shift in Israel's position is primarily linked to the close relationship between Tel Aviv and Moscow, Assad's most important international ally.

The Russians, wrote to Bar'el, have given Israeli a great say on what happens in Syria, with Moscow giving Israel "a free hand to attack Hizballah and Iranian targets in Syria".

In addition, Israel's goal to oust Iran from Syria can only be achieved in agreement with Assad via Russia: "the only power capable of limiting Iran's operations there and perhaps even getting it to leave."

This has "added the Israelis to the unofficial coalition of Arab states that support Assad's continued rule", added Bar'el, in reference to Egypt, which has provided backing for the Syrian regime. 

In return, Israel has reportedly promised Moscow not to undermine Assad's rule.

Haaretz's analysis echoes reports last week that Russia and Israel had reached a deal to allow Syrian forces to take rebel territory in southern Syria, as long as Iranian troops do not participate in the offensive and stay 24 kilometres back from Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Israel seized a large swathe of the Golan Heights and adjacent areas from Syria in a war with Arab states in 1967. It annexed that territory in 1981, a move never recognised by the international community.

Since 19 June, Russia-backed regime forces have ramped up their bombardment of southern Syria's Daraa, as Damascus seeks to regain the opposition territories.

The region borders Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and is considered to be the cradle of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad seven years ago that sparked the civil war.

The regime has chipped away at rebel-held territory in Daraa since the escalation began almost two weeks ago.

Both Israel and Jordan have said they will not take any Syrian refugees, as the conflict despite the conflict already displacing tens of thousands.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms in 2011.

It triggered an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, while millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics - pursued mainly by the regime - have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.