Israel's Options
Dealing with Assad

A report by an influential Israeli think tank counseled that Jerusalem should consider changing tack in Syria. “Despite the high level of complexity created by Russia’s involvement in Syria—or perhaps, rather, because of it—Israel must engage in active efforts to topple Assad and hand Iran a strategic defeat in Syria”, a policy brief on the website of the Institute for National Security Studies said. More:

Tehran’s drive for regional hegemony is a threat to Israel. This threat is coupled with Iran’s ongoing efforts to arm itself with nuclear bombs, develop its missile program (only recently, the Iranians reported an experiment with a new long range surface-to-surface guided missile, and revealed the existence of an underground tunnel serving as a base for ballistic missiles with a range of 1,700 km), and generate a military presence on Israel’s border with Syria and Lebanon. Despite this, Israel has so far avoided making a move that could have contributed to the effort to topple Assad and thus undermine Iran and Hizbollah’s presence in Syria.

The new energy Russia is injecting into the crisis creates two opportunities for Israel. One lies in strengthening an alliance with the Sunni nations in the region, first and foremost Saudi Arabia and Turkey, under the leadership of the United States. The anger and frustration experienced by these states given Russia’s unilateral move could therefore tag Israel as a strategic asset that can serve as a partner in a system to dramatically weaken the threat of the radical axis from the north. Two, in case of failure in moving the “Western” coalition into concurrent action against Assad and ISIS, Israel should strive to realize the fourth option – an Assad-free Syria – as an arrangement reached in partnership with Russia.

Thus far, the Netanyahu government has appeared content to ensure that Russia and Israel are properly “deconflicted” when operating simultaneously over Syrian airspace—Russia when bombing Assad’s enemies, and Israel when it hits arms shipments clearly intended for Hizballah. But with Assad visiting Moscow yesterday in a very public display of unity, and with Hizballah providing critical ground troops for the joint Russian-Iranian-Syrian assault on Aleppo, it increasingly looks like Israel may not be able to just wait and see how things play out.

One of the authors of the report, former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, is a serious voice in Israeli foreign policy circles. It’s almost certain his writing is being carefully read and considered.

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