The latest tide in the fighting in Syria has analysts predicting that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces may continue to retake lost areas and solidify the regime’s hold on power. It would thereby force Israel to think about how its strategy towards the country may need to be altered.
This may have forced the US hand in moving to increase training and small-arms shipments to Syrian rebels based out of Jordan, two US security sources told Reuters on Friday.
With the Syrian opposition fighting amongst itself, and with radical Islamist groups taking the lead in the fighting, it appears that the US move is an effort to prevent the opposition from falling completely into more extremist hands.
However, it is doubtful the aid planned would be enough to switch the tide of the fighting to Assad’s favor.
Consequently, Israeli experts are beginning to think about long-term effects and what an Assad victory would mean.
Israel might find itself with Assad winning and therefore it needs to prepare psychologically for the fact that he might seek revenge or tighten his alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, Prof.
Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, said at a conference last week at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
Zisser said that the Western – and Gulf-backed rebel Free Syrian Army could collapse sooner than we expect.
Chuck Freilich, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former deputy national security adviser in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday the fact that Assad is likely to remain in power means “he is the guy we will have to deal with in the long term.”
“Israel can do nothing to influence the outcome and we should stay out,” asserted Freilich, adding that at this point “we shouldn’t engage with him as the slaughter is continuing.”
The only thing that Israel should discuss with the Syrian regime could be some kind of understanding to prevent disturbances on the Golan front, he said.
“The sad truth is that the alternative to Assad may be worse,” and unfortunately it appears that he is the only one that can prevent deterioration on the border and keep the jihadists at bay.
Clearly, the opposition cannot play this role, he added.
“If, in the long term, Assad remains in power and regains stability, then he is the guy we will have to work with in the future.”
However, he explained, Syria is highly dependent on Iran and Hezbollah and it is in Israel’s interest to weaken these forces.
Joel Parker, a junior researcher who focuses on Syria at the Moshe Dayan Center, told the Post that Assad’s strategy is taking advantage of ongoing infighting between the rebels, which is making it difficult for them to unite and rally against his regime.