The Middle East is witnessing dramatic changes in the past months: Turkey is becoming closer to Israel, Syria is increasingly improving its relations with the UAE, Russia isn’t happy with Israel’s support of Ukraine, and President Assad expressed “hope” in Mohammed bin Salman who stopped funding terrorists in Syria and told his guests from Mauritania that when Saudi Arabia gets rid of American pressures, relations could be restored with Riyadh.
But all these changes do not come without risks, especially with the increased Israeli bombardment of Syria and Erdogan’s declared plan to conquer more Syrian lands in the north to create what he calls “safe zones”, which basically are zones to send Syrian refugees back and create areas of influence for Turkey or even permanent occupation.
This is in the north. In the south, Israel accelerated its aggression on Syria to achieve a few goals:
- Spreading atmosphere of anger: Israel aims at creating an atmosphere of anger among the Syrians and urges them to rise against Damascus to strike a deal with Israel instead of continuing fighting don’t the basis of a just peace, a state for the Palestinians and the return of Palestinian refugees. The Peace that Israel wants from Syria means President Assad has to make big concessions, while Israel makes cosmetic concessions.
- Destroying Syria’s air defences: the second goal that Israel is aiming for in Syria is to destroy the air defence systems. In the past few weeks, Israel destroyed multiple Pantsir S-1 Russian air defence systems operated by the Syrian army officers and multiple Syrian army officers including generals died because of these strikes. What Israel is doing basically is they shoot multiple missiles in different locations and wait for these Pantsir S-1s to respond and intercept the Israeli missiles. The Israelis know the Pantsir S-1, for example, can shoot 10 missiles let’s say. So when the 10 missiles are over and there it is a time for reloading, Israel comes and strikes the Pantsir S-1. I think at least six officers died in the past four weeks because of these strikes on the Pantsir S-1s. Some people will ask me, of course, about the S300 and I receive this question every day on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube and elsewhere. This is a one million dollar question and I think the answer to this question is with Assad or with Putin. I don’t think anyone else has a concrete answer but there are two theories: the first is Russia is pressuring Syria not to use the S300 now because they want to keep the rules of engagement as it is in the region between Syria and Israel. They don’t want further escalation and deterioration of the security situation in Syria because maybe from the Russian perspective if Syria uses S300 against the Israeli F-16s then Israel will start using the F-35 and then Syria has to ask for S400. So, there will be more escalation from the Russian point of view. As for the Syrian side, maybe again Syrians could be waiting for the zero hour because historically when you study the conflict between Syria and Israel you will see that after every major war between Syria and Israel Syria always kept some of its weaponry secret from Israel. Israel knows Syria has S300s but do they know the locations of the S300s? I don’t think so. Therefore, if Syria uses now the S300 against such Israeli targets that are firing missiles whether from the Golan heights or from the regional waters against Syria then Israel may discover the locations of the S300s. That’s why Syrians keep it for the zero hour when there is a major war, not just limited strikes.
- Destroy Hizbollah and Iranian assets: first of all Iranian forces in Syria are very few, they are just advisors and not combatants. Hizbollah between 2012 and 2018 had between 5,000 to 20,000 fighters but the numbers are very minimum nowadays because Syria doesn’t need big forces from Lebanon or elsewhere as 70 per cent of the country is geographically in the hands of the Syrian government. There are, of course, Idlib, northern Aleppo, Azaz, Afrin and other areas still occupied but because there are no plans now for a major offensive or an attack, there are very few Hizbollah fighters in Syria. But still, some of the Hizbollah officers may be trying to deliver weapons from Syria to Lebanon and that’s when Israel also tries to strike these cargos.
In the light of all these developments, Assad paid an official visit to Iran two weeks ago and according to senior political analyst Abdel Bari Atwan, the visit can be summarized in the following points:
- It coincided with the start of the largest Israeli military manoeuvres of its kind near the Syrian and Lebanese borders, amid reports and rumours of preparations to launch a major war against the Axis of Resistance, especially Syria, Iran and Hezbollah. Tel Aviv is in the grips of terror due to the escalation of the strength of this Axis, Israel’s failure to impact Vienna negotiations, and Iran’s closeness to acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities.
- In his speech on the International Quds Day (April 29), the Secretary-General of the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, affirmed that Iran and its resistance alliance will retaliate against any Israeli aggression in Syria. He stressed that the notion of a “response in the right time and place” has gone irreversibly, which requires Syrian-Iranian coordination at the highest levels, in preparation for an upcoming confrontation on Syrian soil that may turn into an all-out war.
- Lebanon is about to enter a critical and sensitive stage beginning on 15 May, with the holding of parliamentary elections that are neck-deep in foreign interference, especially from the United States, France, Saudi Arabia and Iran. The results of these elections may lead to political and military confrontations if they do not conform to the calculations of some internal parties and their supporters abroad.
- After the Russian military operation in Ukraine commenced, the Arab region has witnessed new political and military rules of engagement, which may lead to a dramatic change in regional and international alliances. Recently, we witnessed an Egyptian, Saudi, and Emirati rapprochement with Russia – and a sharp rise in their tensions with their historic American ally – after the Arab states rejected Washington’s request to increase gas and oil production to lower prices and replace the disruption of Russian energy sources to Europe.
In your opinion, are we going to witness a major Israeli escalation in the region and if it happened, will Turkey join hands with Israel?
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Kevork Almassian is an award-winning political commentator from Syria. He is the founder of Syriana Analysis and is known for his contribution to the literature on the Syrian war.