When Israeli Prime Minister left the Mossad facility in Tel Aviv after he spent half a day there listening to analysis of the situation in the region, the people accompanying him spoke to the media about their impressions that the Syrian arena is in a state of collapse. They emphasized that they hold this position because many of the Assad regime’s soldiers had fled and are in a very bad situation. They said that if Israel wanted to occupy Damascus now it would only need a few hours; before the revolution, they had estimated that it would take them several days.
I believe that it will not be that easy to occupy the Syrian capital. It’s not that Damascus was weaker under the rule of Bashar Al-Assad or his father, or that it is still as strong as before, but it will be very difficult for anyone to enter Damascus because the occupation of the Syrian capital today is more costly than ever. Before, there was an established order that had handled the ties between Tel Aviv, Damascus and their neighbors, such as Lebanon.
The regime that had managed the ties between Israel, Syria and Hezbollah is gradually breaking down; the situation has become more dangerous now than it ever was over the past four decades, contrary to what the Israelis are saying. It’s not the rebel forces or the Syrian regime’s militia allies that will impede Israeli tanks from occupying Damascus; rather, it is the chaos that would make the Israelis think long and hard before they get bogged down in the Syrian situation. Israel will certainly not be venturing into sending its troops to cross the borders of the Golan Heights to the east.
I visited the Syrian front more than a decade ago and I saw the buffer zone separating Syria from Israel, monitored by international forces. There was safe and unhindered access from and to the Syrian capital, Damascus. At the beginning of Bashar Al-Assad’s reign, he was suggesting that he intended to take part in a peace plan to end the conflict. The road leading to the Golan Heights was constructed and resurfaced, and a traffic light system was installed. There were no military installations all along the road when we drove along it.
The road has never actually undergone a military test by the Israelis, because both of the Assad regimes (that of the father and of the son) have never dared to provoke Israel, which in turn did not demonstrate its powers during the conflicts that have erupted. Lebanon was the arena where Syria and Israel agreed to settle their scores, because it was best for both Assad’s regime and Israel.
The relations Israel and the Syrian government shared were proven to be successful for a long time, except for the short period during which the 1973 war broke out, which did not change much in the balance of power. Assad’s operations have never crossed the borders of the Golan Heights; he extended his influence over Lebanon and protected Israel in Lebanon and Syria to prevent more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees from becoming a security problem.
Israel’s problem will worsen with the fall of Assad’s regime, because it will lose the “allied-enemy power” in Syria and will not be able to rely on Hezbollah to control the situation in Lebanon. In the absence of Bashar Al-Assad, the party will be weak, besieged and will surely be in conflict with the rest of the Lebanese militias. Moreover, there is no central authority for the army in Lebanon that can replace Assad’s forces and Hezbollah.
Despite the inevitability of Assad’s collapse and the post-Assad vacuum, we cannot anticipate the events in this troubled region in the coming few years. What is certain is that the establishment of a security structure handling this geographic triangle and working as a balance to control the fabricated conflicts and inconsistent alliances like Assad used to do seems far-fetched.
The conflict between Iran and Syria against Israel was real, but the actual reason behind it was not just the Palestinian cause, but a series of other issues. Most notable of these is the struggle for influence on the regional and strategic security levels, in addition to Iran’s desire to impose itself as a dominant force through using Hezbollah, Syria and Hamas, and through the development of its nuclear power. Iran has used the Palestinian cause and its apparatuses to reach what we are witnessing today: recognizing Iran as an influential regional power.
Therefore, if Iran signs a permanent nuclear deal in Geneva, we won’t be witnessing a firm Iranian stance against Israel anymore. As a result, the Iranians might also abandon Hamas and Hezbollah later on.
It is impossible to predict what will happen afterwards and who will fill the void, but one thing is sure: Israel will not be able to rest peacefully as long as it refuses the peaceful resolution to establish an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories. The nuclear deal with Iran will not change much in a case involving 5 million refugees and a land occupied by force.