Thursday, March 18, 2021




Last week, the Czech Republic opened its diplomatic mission in Jerusalem, under the lead of its embassy in Tel Aviv.

Earlier this week, Kosovo opened its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem, making some history along the way:

And now Netanyahu is claiming that there are four more countries that will soon be signing peace deals with Israel. While it is not known which countries Netanyahu is referring to, Niger, Mauritania, Indonesia are considered to be possibilities.

Syria is not considered to be one of those countries.

And yet...

Back in May 2018, The Wall Street Journal ran an article claiming that Iran’s Push for Influence Meets Resistance in Iraq and Syria:

Syrians in the largely secular capital, Damascus, have meanwhile accused Iran of stoking religious tensions. And Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s other main foreign partner, Russia, has showed impatience with Iran’s growing military presence in Syria, which Israel has moved to contain with airstrikes.
The existence of friction between Syria and Iran is not the same as a rapprochement between Syria and Israel. 
But that was back in 2018. A lot has changed since then.
Russia has presented itself as a broker between Israel and Syria, arranging the deal that saw an Israeli woman who wandered into Syria returned home in exchange for 2 Syrian shepherds (with Israel funding Russian Covid vaccine for Syria) and searching for the remains of two Israeli soldiers in Syria, missing since 1982.

Along these lines, Foreign Policy reported last month that analysts suggested that "Assad’s strong relationship with Russia and growing ties with the UAE, both of which want Syria to come to terms with Israel, has impacted the regime’s thinking." The article goes on to quote a former human rights activist in Syria:
We have seen several deals recently, such as when Russia dug graves in Yarmouk to find to Israeli soldiers. Now we have heard that Israel is buying Russia’s coronavirus vaccine for Syrians. This comes in parallel with the normalization wave between Israel and the Arab countries. It’s not impossible we will see a formal normalization between the regime and Israel very soon. [emphasis added]
Normalization sounds overly optimistic.
But he is not alone in seeing forces moving Syria in that direction.
Jim Dunnigan, a military-political analyst and editor-in-chief of the website StrategyPage, posted analysis this month that also claims there is an effort towards a peace deal between Israel and Syria:
Israel is quietly working on a peace deal with the Assads by first consulting Russia, Turkey and the Arab nations Israel has diplomatic relations with. If Israel can achieve a consensus on how to offer and deliver the Assads a workable peace deal, Iran could be driven out of Syria.
The idea is that on the on hand, the Iranian people are not pleased with Iran's involvement in Syria because of the financial cost, and on the other, Russia sees Iran's ongoing involvement as destabilizing.
Now we know how Russia, Iranians, Turkey and the Arab countries feel about this.
What do Syrians think?
The article continues:
There has been a shift in Syrian public attitudes towards Iran as Iran moved in more of its Lebanese (Hezbollah), Afghan and local mercenaries to Syrian army bases around the capital and other areas where a lot of Assad supporters live. That is followed by truckloads of missiles and other weapons from Iran to be stockpiled for use against Israel. Several hundred times over the last few years Israeli airstrikes have destroyed these Iranian stockpiles, usually with few casualties on the ground and those tend to be Iranians or their mercenaries. Now the Iranians, or at least their Hezbollah veterans, are talking of the need to store these weapons in residential areas to use Syrian civilians as human shields to discourage Israeli air strikes. Syrian civilians know how this works. [emphasis added]
This is where things become problematic for Syria. It is one thing for Russia and Israel to discuss moving Syria out of Iran's orbit -- there is nothing Iran can do about that. But Iran will not take kindly to Syrian public opinion that opposes Iran. According to StrategyPage, if Iran believes that this public opinion extends into the Assad government itself, it will take action.
And where does the Syrian government itself stand?
In January, Mordechai Kedar wrote for the Besa Center about reports of secret talks between the Assad regime and Israel. He quotes from an article appearing in the online Arabic newspaper Elaph, last December, featuring an interview Israeli journalist Majdi Halabi die with an officer of the IDF General Staff. The officer said that Syria was in touch with Israel, both through Russia and through other means. Those 'other means' would include a reported meeting of Israeli and Syrian representatives in Cyprus. 
Then, on January 14, 2021, the newspaper al-Shira reported that Israeli representatives met with Assad's representatives at a Russian base in northern Syria. Four days later, the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-awsat, picked up on the report and indicated that Lieut. Gen. (res.) Gadi Eizenkot and Ari Ben-Menashe, a former top Mossad official, met with the head of the Syrian National Security Bureau, Gen. Ali Mamlouk, and Assad’s security affairs adviser Bassam Hassan. The meeting was hosted by Russia’s Gen. Aleksandr Tchaikov.
Kedar admits:
While the details might not be entirely accurate or complete, it appears that intensive Israeli-Syrian contacts are being held behind the scenes.
What exactly would Syria want from Israel?
When Halabi asked this question during his interview, the IDF officer responded:
They want to go back to the Arab League and they want economic aid, fuel for example. They need money to pay the Iranians to get out of Syria, and they want to solidify their regime. Assad sees the reality, and he wants to forge ties with the Sunni axis so that he can pay his debts to Iran and get them out of Syria. He sees that Israel can help him with the US on the one hand and with the Gulf axis and the Sunni axis on the other...But he is now prepared to talk with us so as to shore up his rule, defray the financial debt to Iran, and create a situation of non-belligerency with Israel, and after that negotiations on the Golan and other things. [emphasis added]
Since December, Biden has taken office and it is likely that the degree to which "Israel can help him with the US" has diminished, while its ability to help with the Gulf and Sunni axes has improved.
How realistic is Syrian normalization with Israel?
According to that IDF officer:
Certainly, I’m prepared to reach an agreement with [Assad] tomorrow morning, but to tell the truth, we haven’t spoken about this with the Chief of Staff or with the political echelon because it’s still at the starting point, with improvised mediators…The important thing is that there’s a possibility of breaking up the radical axis, the Iranian axis. [emphasis added]
In the Middle East, Israel is developing into a force -- not just a force to be reckoned with vis-a-vis Iran, but also a force to be relied upon by less than friendly Arab/Muslim states. And while Biden has undermined this by delaying the delivery of F-35's to the UAE and undercutting Saudi Arabia with a leaked CIA report, the wheels have already been set in motion by Trump in this changing region.
Just ask Syria.

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