Israel’s Policy on the Syrian Civil War: Risks and Opportunities



Nir Boms (2018): Israel’s Policy on the Syrian Civil War: Risks and Opportunities, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/23739770.2017.1430006


The war in Syria, which to date has taken hundreds of thousands of lives and displaced almost half the country’s population, seems to be nearing an end. The Syrian tragedy, which drew in additional actors from throughout the Middle East and the world—paid militias, “volunteers,” and foreign armies—at unprecedented speed, seems to be stabilizing. This has created a new status quo, and will enable a smaller circle to wield control over the state still known as Syria when the smoke of battle finally clears. In August 2017, the UN Migration Agency (IOM) announced that over 600,000 displaced persons, some 10 percent of the total number of refugees, had already returned to their homes in Syria, many to the city of Aleppo, which, until several months earlier, had symbolized the battles between the weakened rebel camp and the regime forces.1 Syrian tractors are already clearing the way for new roads, and Russian cranes are building a new port terminal, while the Iranians have started constructing a modern “medical city” near Damascus. The year 2017 is also ending with Syria’s conquest (aided by Hizbullah)of the village of Beit Jann, one of the more significant pockets of resistance supported by Israel.

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Syria’s New Map and New Actors: Challenges and Opportunities for Israel

Memo pic

The civil war underway in Syria since March 2011 has changed the Syrian nation beyond recognition, and the shockwaves caused by the war have made a very strong impact,  both  in the Middle East and beyond. Following four decades of relative stability, Syria has become an arena marked by internal, regional, and international conflict. The weakening of the central government in Damascus, along with the transformation of Syria into a battlefield featuring many actors with different and often conflicting interests, poses new challenges for Israel. In the uncertain reality marked by the multiplicity of hostile actors, there are also opportunities for Israel to strengthen and possibly forge ties with pragmatic Sunni opposition and minority groups with whom it shares specific interests. This memorandum surveys the main actors currently operating in Syria, especially in the southern portion of the country; analyzes their attitudes toward Israel; and formulates recommendations for a new, proactive Israeli policy in the dynamic Syrian arena. It proposes modes of military, political, economic, and humanitarian action likely to serve Israel’s strategic interests. Chief among these interests are the need to maintain tranquility on the Golan Heights and the need to prevent the entrenchment of “negative” players on the Syrian side. For the full report, click here.
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Choosing Not To Choose

Nir Boms and Asaf Hazani.Middle East Online

Israelis have used a variety of terms to describe the past few years’ events in the Arab world, reflecting how different actors have perceived the changes. What began as an “Arab spring” grew into a dangerous “radical Islamic winter”; and as Israel’s leaders remained unable to define the nature of the transformations, it became a “Middle East upheaval.” Gradually the tendency to swing between optimism and pessimism turned into profound puzzlement.

Impressed by the domino effect of the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia, Israelis initially saw the wave of protests as a fascinating sociological experiment taking place “over there,” far from its own borders. The country continued to think of itself as separate, a unique case in the Middle East or, as former Israeli defence minister Ehud Barak (2007-13) put it, “a villa in the jungle.” Even the “tent protests” that broke out in the summer of 2011 were seen as an expression of bourgeois discontent, a summer adventure related more to events in the United States and Europe (the Occupy movement, the Indignados) than to the regional turbulence.

Israel initially chose to remain aloof. And although the Arab Spring made Israeli headlines, major developments in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Bahrain went unremarked upon since they were not seen as directly affecting national security.

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