Smoke rises from al-Harak town, as seen from Deraa countryside, Syria June 25, 2018..
(photo credit: ALAA AL-FAQIR)
The US withdrawal from Syria will give a green light to Iran to continue its activities in the war-torn country, which will have dangerous consequences for Washington’s allies in the Middle East, especially Israel.
U.S. weighs complete withdrawal of troops in Syria, December 19, 2018 (Reuters)
US President Donald Trump has threatened to leave Syria before but was convinced to stay. But a tweet on Wednesday night, in which he wrote “After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home!” blindsided American allies.
Some experts took to Twitter on Wednesday calling the US withdrawal a surrender, while others wondered how allies in the region could trust an administration run by a commander-in-chief who changes his mind like he changes his socks.
And for those in the Middle East, the withdrawal rang alarm bells.
“The confusion surrounding the US foreign policy is dangerous for all US allies in the Middle East,” Ceng Sagnic, coordinator of the Kurdish Studies program at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies
told The Jerusalem Post
. “Israel has a lot to do in Syria, there’s a lot left to do. And abruptly, in the manner of a few days, the most efficient Israeli ally in the Middle East announced an uncoordinated withdrawal from Syria leaving everything a mess.”
“Trump’s decision to withdraw serves to make Iran appear as the most reliable ally for non-state actors of the region, including pro-West groups like the Syrian Defense Forces,” Sagnic added.
Islamic State, though it is far from it’s height of power when it controlled territory the size of Great Britain, is still a significant threat and to say that the war against the Sunni jihadist group has been won is far from correct.
But Islamic State is not the biggest concern following the withdrawal of some 2,000 American troops. It is Iran and their continued attempts to entrench themselves in Syria, a significant threat that Israel has been contending with for the past six years.
“The security challenge vis-a-vis the Iranian presence in Syria and its influence on the northern front becomes more complex for us when the US soldiers will abandon Syrian soil,” said former defense minister and IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. (res.) Moshe Ya’alon
Nevertheless he said, Israel “can also deal with the new reality if we continue with an active policy in accordance with our redlines and our national interests. The United States has many other ways to act and influence even without forces on the ground.”
Sagnic told the Post that Israel’s freedom of operations in Syrian skies is what has prevented the Iranians from having their way in Syria. This, he said, was “because of the lack of a legitimate government in Damascus.”
But, he warned, Russian President Vladimir Putin has mastered how to fill the gaps left by the Americans in other countries and he will likely try to do the same in Syria.
“If Russia assumes control of all of Syria in the absence of American influence and becomes the only place to go for peace negotiations, it would be much easier to build a legitimate regime in favor of the Assad regime as well as for Iran and Hezbollah,” Sagnic said, adding that unlike with Washington, “Israel has no influence over Russia and once there is a legitimate Syrian regime then Israel’s freedom of operations could be limited.”
The timing of the withdrawal, shortly after Israel began Operation Northern Shield to discover and destroy cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon into northern Israel, is also of concern.
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah – which would allow the Lebanese Shi’ite terrorist group to produce accurate precision-guided missiles – and the helping of Hezbollah and other Shi’ite militias strengthen their foothold on the Golan Heights and have stressed that both are redlines for the Jewish State.
According to Ya’alon, Washington should recognize Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights “not as compensation, but as an expression of continued backing.”
Israel has admitted to a few hundred strikes against Iranian targets and Hezbollah weapons convoys in Syria, preventing the transfer of sophisticated weaponry from Iran into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated that Hezbollah has “at most a few dozen” precision-guided missiles
and has closed down sites for missile conversion near Beirut international airport, he also said the group is “trying to open other sites” to convert missiles with Iranian funding and know-how.
Sagnic warned that if Iran is able to gain access to northern Syria, “we are talking about the realization of a very significant supply line for the Iranian regime through northwestern Syria to the Mediterranean. It would redouble the burden for Israel because this would be the third supply line to reach the Mediterranean and would change the balance of power to the advantage of Israel’s adversaries.”
The withdrawal of American troops from Syria might save Washington money, but it would essentially allow Iran and their militias, including Hezbollah, to shift their entire focus to Israel and its destruction.
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