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July 31, 2018 1:14 pm

Expert Warns of Negative Consequences for Israel From Assad’s Takeover of Border Area

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An IDF soldier looks into southern Syria from the Israeli side of the border. Photo: IDF via Wikimedia Commons.

Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s successful takeover of the area adjacent to the border with Israel marks a “very painful strategic failure” for the Jewish state, an Israeli expert told The Algemeiner on Tuesday.

The Assad regime — backed by Russia and Iran — launched a massive offensive in recent weeks against rebel strongholds in southwestern Syria near the Golan Heights border with Israel. In the past few days, the last pockets of resistance have been defeated and Assad’s forces have essentially declared victory.

Veteran Israeli journalist Ehud Yaari believes that this is bad news for Israel for several reasons, mainly due to its failure to exploit the opportunity to topple the Assad regime and thus deal a blow to Iran’s imperial ambitions in the region.

“Israel has suffered in my opinion a very painful strategic failure in Syria,” he said in an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner, “because the government and the army were over-cautious, and didn’t take the measures necessary over the past seven years of the civil war in order to assure that Assad is removed.”

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“The failure to get Assad removed means that he was saved by the Iranians and, of course, the Russians,” Yaari continued. “And the Iranians are the main players. I personally consider it a very grave mistake on our part. And there will be consequences.”

Iran, Yaari said, is by now burrowed deep into the Syrian military. “Assad doesn’t have an army,” he explained. “When people speak about the Syrian army, Assad’s army, there is no army. There are remnants of the once-huge army that he had. And mainly what you have is an array, a myriad of all sorts of militias. Many of them affiliated in one way or another with the Iranians, with Hezbollah. So when the Syrian army is going to retake the positions along the Golan line, that means that we will see these type of forces positioned there.”

Nonetheless, Yaari feels that war is unlikely in the short term. “I think that the Syrians and Iranians are not interested in any flare-up along the border,” he stated. “I think because they have different priorities. They have to stabilize Assad’s hold on Syria. It’s a country which is destroyed to a great extent. They have to rebuild an army. They have to do a lot of stuff before they are seeking to engage the IDF. Therefore, I believe that we will see the Syrians, whether from this myriad of remnants of the army and militias, they will take the old positions that they had, as long as they don’t shoot fire at us, the Israelis will remain calm.”

In the long term, however, Iran will entrench its control in Syria, something Israel has pledged to prevent.

“The Iranians will increase, slowly but steadily, to get themselves not just entrenched in Syria but entrenched within the Syrian army, and this is what they are doing,” Yaari assessed.

“So all in all, if we are trying to look ahead a few years from now, what I see is the emergence of growing Iranian proxies within the Syrian army,” he predicted. “They will pursue the effort to upgrade the arsenal of missiles and get them much more accurate, will pursue their efforts to establish intelligence facilities, etc., etc.”

Israel’s current response to this, in Yaari’s view, is effective only in the short term.

“I think that what Israel is doing is Israel is sending the Air Force,” he said. “When you identify an Iranian target, an Iranian convoy, a shipment, etc., Israel sends the air force in. It disrupts. The Iranians don’t have a good answer to that. It disrupts the Iranian effort, it stalls it, it doesn’t stop it.”

The future, however, is far more worrisome, Yaari cautioned.

“What will come next is, I believe, sooner or later, the few American troops east of the Euphrates river, close to the borders of Jordan, Iraq, and Syria, when the Americans are no longer there, the Iranians will have the possibility whenever they want to use the corridor to move militiamen from Iran, from wherever, shipments, anything they want, along the road into Syria instead of relying exclusively as they do now on sending cargo planes to Syria,” he said. “Not a good picture.”

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