Since 1967, Israel has illegally occupied part of Syria, the Golan Heights. In 1981, the Israeli regime annexed Syria’s land even though the entire world, including the United States, refuses to recognize the Golan Heights as anything other than part of Syria.
Israel has been occupying Syria dating back to a time when Iran was one of America’s closest allies. Whereas in much of the 20th century, Tel Aviv’s ire was directed at the Arab world, successive changes to Arab governments along with the rise of post-revolutionary Iran and now Turkey’s pivot towards Eurasia, has caused a vocal shift in Israel’s position, although it is one scarcely talked about.
Since 1978, Egypt has normalized relations with Israel to the point of becoming a partner against Palestine. Jordan whose Hashemite monarchy craved prestige in the Arab world but lost a great deal of it for opposing revolutionary Arab nationalist parties made a similar peace partnership agreement with Tel Aviv in 1994.
With Israel occupying Lebanon into the new millennium, this left Syria as Israel’s only powerful rival in the Arab world. This was especially the case after the Gulf War weakened Iraq.
Israel has always enthusiastically backed so-called regime change in Syria. Bill Clinton’s apparently cordial relations with Hafez al-Assad in the 1990s were a constant point of consternation for the Lukid and like-minded factions in Israel.
However, this did not stop Israel from continuing its efforts to either co-opt or subdue parts of the Arab world, a process which has successfully rendered their token statements about Palestine as geo-politically useless.
Syria was and remains an exception, but Syria was ‘supposed to fall’. However, due to the steadfastness of the Syrian Arab Army, Syria’s secular constitution which has enabled a united front against jihad and imperialism and due to military assistance from Russia and Iran, Syria has not fallen and nor will it.
This is why, Israel has, like the United States, shifted away from both hard regime change in Syria as well as from soft regime change which manifests itself in the form of proxy or hybrid wars.
The new phase of Israel aggression against Syria revolves around the targeting of a comparatively small group of Iranian military advisors who are in the country. In the Israeli lexicon, targeting ‘Iran’ is also a code word for targeting the Lebanese Arab party Hezbollah whose volunteers are cooperating with the government of the Syrian Arab Republic against jihadist terrorists. Thus far, Israel has struck Syrian and Hezbollah targets in Syria, but the Israeli regime has not killed any actual Iranians in Syria.
Now, a prominent minister in the Likud regime, Ze’ev Elkin, has given an interview with the ultra-liberal Russian radio station Echo of Moscow and has said the following,
I do not think we should interfere in this issue. Usually, our attempts to interfere in our neighbours”.
He then said however, that if Iranian officials (though he did not specify in what capacity) remain in Syria after the conflict, Tel Aviv will view the Ba’athist government in Syria as part of an ‘Iranian axis’ which would thereafter be targeted by Israel. He said of the situation,
(It) will be as negative as the attitude toward the Iranian presence with all the ensuing consequences”.
As it stands, Iran’s only official medium-term plans for Syria involve civilian business initiatives such as rebuilding infrastructure, however, from an Israeli perspective, this will likely make little difference. If anyone from Iran apart from tourists remains in Syria, this will be used as the latest in a long line of excuses to justify illegal Israeli aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.
Based on Israel’s history, even if Iran totally disengaged from Syria, Tel Aviv’s position to Damascus would remain largely unchanged, not least because Syria remains committed to liberating the occupied Golan Heights as well as remaining the only steadfast supporter of Palestine in the Arab world. This much was confirmed during Syria’s recent address to the UN General Assembly.
However, if Israel has really abandoned its ‘Assad must go’ policy which has been on the books ever since the current Syrian President’s father came to power in 1970, there is only one way to test this and this is through Russia.
Russia is one of the few countries in the world with close relations with both Tehran and Tel Aviv. Objectively, Iran has no plans to invade Israel, contrary to the constant propaganda from Israel, but Israel has openly declared its desire to fight a proxy war against Iran in Syria.
Israel however, does not want to fight a proxy war with Russia and Russia is not going to be leaving Syria anytime soon.
None of this information is new, but in a rare moment of accidental honesty, an Israeli regime official has admitted the latest twist in the narrative from Tel Aviv. Technically, Assad no longer ‘must go’ according to Israel, not that this was Israel or anyone else’s reality to dictate in the first place. Like the President of France and the United States before him, Ze’ev Elkin’s statement is a rare but crucial departure from the ‘Assad must go’ narrative which tends to persist in western capitals, long after such a thing was rendered geo-strategically impossible.
Now that Israel has succeeded in weakening much of the Arab world, Iran is the name of the game. As Iran is now Russia’s most important non-Arab ally in the wider region, it will be up to Moscow to protect Syria’s legal right to maintain her own Iranian alliance without risking a new war in Syria. If Russia can use her diplomatic tact to achieve this, it will mean that Russia will be the first country to ever diplomatically convince Israel to avoid entering a conflict. This in itself is a tall order but it could possibly be Russia’s finest achievement in Middle Eastern diplomacy.
Top photo | Israeli soldiers stand on top of armored military vehicles during training exercises in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, near the border with Syria, Wednesday, June 17, 2015. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
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