Best re­sult is Syria as joint Rus­sia-US creation

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER

IT IS too early to say whether last Fri­day morn­ing’s Amer­i­can mis­sile strike on the Syr­ian air base that launched the chem­i­cal at­tack on Idlib was just a one­off or her­alds Amer­ica’s re­turn as an ac­tive player in the re­gion.

Ei­ther way, it is com­ing at a piv­otal point for Is­rael as well. The stakes in Syria have never been higher, but with a more ac­tive Amer­i­can player on the field, Is­rael also has new op­tions.

Is­rael’s pol­icy to­wards Syria over the last six years has re­mained re­mark­ably con­sis­tent.

Un­der Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, Is­rael has sought not to get sucked into the war across its bor­der while safe­guard­ing its strate­gic in­ter­ests by car­ry­ing out mil­i­tary strikes where nec­es­sary.

For the past year-and-a-half, this has meant in­ten­sive diplo­macy with Rus­sia, which has be­come the main in­ter­na­tional player con­trol­ling Syria’s fate.

De­spite Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of­fi­cially tak­ing the As­sad regime un­der his wing and di­rect­ing his forces there to co-op­er­ate with Iran and Hizbol­lah, he turned a blind eye to­wards Is­rael’s pe­ri­odic strikes on Hizbol­lah weapons con­voys and Syria army units which — usu­ally in­ad­ver­tently — fired across Is­rael’s bor­ders.

Un­til very re­cently, it seemed that Mr Putin was sat­is­fied with ac­com­mo­dat­ing Is­rael’s needs as long as it was clear that his over­all aim of en­sur­ing Mr As­sad’s sur­vival was not jeop­ar­dised. The Is­raeli and Rus­sian mil­i­taries es­tab­lished a hot­line be­tween the IDF head­quar­ters in Tel Aviv and the Rus­sians’ main Syr­ian air base at Kh­meimim.

The two air forces were care­ful not to get in each other’s way. But the sit­u­a­tion, both on the ground and diplo­mat­i­cally, was chang­ing even be­fore the regime bombed the town of Khan Shaikhoun on Tues­day April 4 with Sarin nerve agents, killing at least 80 peo­ple.

For the past few months, the con­sen­sus has been that the war is fi­nally wind­ing down, that the regime will re­main, and that this is the pe­riod in which per­ma­nent ar­range­ments will be cre­ated. In his re­cent vis­its to both Wash­ing­ton and Moscow, Mr Ne­tanyahu urged Pres­i­dents Trump and Putin not to al­low Iran and Hizbol­lah to cre­ate last­ing strongholds within Syria.

Whether or not As­sad re­mains a pup­pet ruler, Is­rael is anx­ious for a post-war bal­ance in Syria that min­imises the roles of Iran and Hizbol­lah. The best way to achieve such an out­come is to have both Rus­sia and the US un­der­writ­ing it.

For now, Rus­sia is dou­bling down on its sup­port for Mr As­sad, pub­licly sus­pend­ing its “de­con­flic­tion” co-or­di­na­tion with the US mil­i­tary (but in­ter­est­ingly,

Op­por­tu­nity: Don­ald Trump not with Is­rael). How­ever, if the Amer­i­cans are now plan­ning to be­come more in­volved, Mr Putin will have to take them into con­sid­er­a­tion, rather than lose the huge in­vest­ment he has made in Syria.

The swift and ac­cu­rate at­tack last Fri­day morn­ing em­pha­sised also Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­ity, when its pres­i­dent chooses to use it.

Last week, Is­rael was quick to pub­licly re­lease its own in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ments that clearly linked the regime to the chem­i­cal at­tack. More de­tails were un­ques­tion­ably shared with their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts and could have played a role both in Mr Trump’s de­ci­sion to re­tal­i­ate and the ac­cu­racy of the mis­sile strike, which took out some of the Sukhoi-22 fighter-bombers be­lieved to have bombed Khan Shaikhoun.

Mr Ne­tanyahu was the first world leader to re­spond to the strikes in Syria. In the sec­ond case, last Fri­day, his of­fice had a state­ment pre­pared by 6am, less than 90 min­utes after the Tom­a­hawk mis­siles ex­ploded in Syria. It said “Is­rael fully sup­ports Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion and hopes that this mes­sage of re­solve in the face of the As­sad regime’s hor­rific ac­tions will res­onate not only in Da­m­as­cus but in Tehran, Py­ongyang and else­where.” For “else­where”, read Moscow.

PHOTO: AP

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