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Here's What People Don't Understand About Israel And Syria
On Sunday, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) allegedly bombed targets at the Damascus International Airport and in a base in Dimas near the border with Lebanon. This latest strike, like all those before it, targeted regime and Iranian-Hezbollah assets, the exact nature of which is not yet clear.
Yet, despite the fact that all Israeli incursions in Syria since the outbreak of the uprising have been directed solely against the Iranian camp, Arab commentators, to say nothing of Syria opposition figures, continue to proclaim that Israel and the Assad regime are in league with each other.
To this day, some even remain convinced that Israel’s supposed preference for the Assad regime stands behind Washington’s de facto pro-Assad policy. This old, stale line needs to be put to rest once and for all.
Not only does it betray silliness, it also grossly misreads the geostrategic map.
The reality is that while the Sunni regional states back the Syrian opposition forces, Israel alone has taken direct action against Assad and his Iranian allies — something that the Obama administration has strenuously opposed.
Expressions of this mistaken view of an Israeli collusion with Assad are pervasive among anti-regime Arab commentators. Take, for instance, famous media personality Faisal Qassem’s reaction to the strike: “Bashar Assad’s media bugles say that Israel bombs the regime in support of terrorists. However, reality is that it supports Bashar and tries to cast him as a rejectionist per the old agreement,” Qassem tweeted to his nearly 2 million followers.
A statement by the opposition Syrian Coalition went further still, and spoke of “the unification of efforts” and “the close relationship” between Assad and Israel.
Sure, every so often a quote by some random figure in Israel, a member of the Knesset, an academic or analyst, can be produced to back the contention that the state of Israel is really rooting for Assad.
But the simple fact is that the record of Israeli action in Syria is as unambiguous as it is consistent. When the Israeli military strikes, it hits the regime and its Iranian patrons.
The target of the latest strike is a case in point. In a way, it was a standard raid in that it destroyed what was likely an Iranian shipment of advanced weapons meant for Hezbollah, which is in keeping with established Israeli red lines. But the fact that the IAF struck inside the Damascus airport — for the second time now — is no small matter.
As reported last year, the Iranians have been supplying arms to their Syrian ally through weekly flights to the Damascus International Airport. These flights are organized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and are controlled by Iranian officers in Damascus. By striking that critical resupply hub, Israel signaled that it cares little about the impact its strikes could have on the regime's logistics and its ability to prosecute the war.
A report in an Iran-friendly outlet put forward additional relevant claims. Citing a local journalist who got to the airport after the strike, it relayed that “the military wing of the airport was hit, ‘meaning areas of concentration of the Syrian army units,’” and where the regime was “now receiving military shipments and storing them there before transporting them to other areas for use.”
Also hit was “the exports and imports building,” a claim seconded by Rami Abdul Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who added that the building contains material and supplies for the regime armed forces.
The facility in Dimas seems to be more directly tied to Hezbollah. According to Abdul Rahman, the storage depots there “are managed by Hezbollah even as the area is militarily under the control of the [regime’s] Fourth Division.”
A number of Syrian sources have claimed that a number of Hezbollah members were killed and injured in the strike on Dimas. The weapons stored and assembled in the warehouses, from whence they’re transferred to Lebanon, are likely part of Hezbollah’s arsenal for war with Israel — like the Iranian-made Fateh 110 missiles, or perhaps air defense systems.
But there have also been claims that some of the depots contained Iranian drones. Hezbollah has used these drones in its battles with Syrian rebels, and the Iranians have also supplied them to the regime to gather intelligence on the rebels.
To say that Israel is only acting in its own interests, as part of its war with Iran and its Hezbollah arm, is to state the obvious.
And yet Arab and Syrian commentators who profess an Israeli alliance with Assad seem to miss what’s self-evident.
AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Insofar as Assad is an Iranian vassal, whose forces are now integrated with the IRGC and Hezbollah, and whose territory is an essential conduit for Iranian arms to Hezbollah, Israel is not interested in propping him up.
To be sure, there are serious limits to Israel’s ability, to say nothing of its desire, to be more deeply involved in the Syrian war. Israel’s policy has largely been to stay out of the Syrian swamp while responding to any breach at its border.
But despite these constraints and apprehensions, one only needs to point to the aid Israel has provided to Syrian civilians and rebels alike (noted most recently in a UNDOF report), its tolerance of rebel control of the border region, in addition to the repeated strikes against the regime and Hezbollah, to dismiss the notion of an Israeli collusion with Assad.
Meanwhile, the White House has rejected any proposal that targets Assad and the Iranian assets propping him up. President Obama reportedly dispatched letters to Ayatollah Khamenei, personally reassuring him that the US would not touch Assad.
The administration has repeatedly signaled that it recognizes Syria as an Iranian sphere of influence — a position directly at odds with Israeli interests. In sharp contrast to Washington, Israel has maintained strategic clarity in Syria and has not strayed from its focus of confronting Iran and its assets.
Those commentators who speak of Israeli support for Assad fail to see this plain reality. The simple fact is that it is Israel — and certainly not the US — that is going after their shared enemy: Iran and its assets.
One can understand the complications of Syrian opposition bodies openly working with Israel — though many rebels in southern Syria seem to have few qualms about it. But at the very least, groups like the Syrian Coalition should grow up and leave the silly rhetoric to Assad.
Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. He tweets @AcrossTheBay.
This article originally appeared at Now Lebanon.