International law is not something which is hampering the Trump administration in the Middle East, as it did with Obama before him, who we should remember pulled US troops out of Iraq in 2009 and shied away from attacking the Assad regime because of rules and treaties.
Few can understand, perhaps not even Trump himself, what the logic is behind sending 1500 troops to the region in response to Iran moving its troops and proxies around, in preparation for a possible strike, but Israel’s replicated lack of acknowledgment of international law in Syria is telling.
Trump’s ideas in the region are muddled, whereas Israel’s are more focused when we look at the Iran agenda. In the month of May, a number of strikes were made against Syrian army positions, which, for some, might be considered an odd, if not feral tactic given the tension which is mounting between Washington and Iran and the very real fear of war—particularly after the attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on June 13th and the shooting down by Iran of a US drone on June 20th.
In Syria, are the Israelis hoping to provoke a bigger attack from Assad and his allies, with a view that it could be a catalyst for the US to strike Iran?
Traditionally, Israel has usually hit Hezbollah and Iranian military positions and missile activities, a policy which gained momentum in recent years as ISIL and Nusra extremist groups lost their territorial hold of the south of Syria and allowed Hezbollah and Iranian units to set up—and therefore present themselves as a new threat to Israel’s northern border, as well as, of course, the Golan Heights. An agreement between Israel and Russia last year, which supposedly meant Iran withdrawing its military presence to 85 kms from the Israeli border, was hoped to have calmed Israel’s worries.
Indeed, in recent months, Israel’s fretting about its illegal occupation of the Golan Heights or its own border region with Syria, arguably should have diminished. In one area of Southern Syria, ISIL fighters have been allowed to congregate once again which, for the moment, is proving to be a bonus to both the Assad regime and Israel, as their presence is forcing many Syrians (in particular Druze) to join the Syrian army, while also being a support to the IDF (as ISIL can be conveniently used as a counterweight against Assad, Hezbollah and Iranian forces). Moreover, skeptical analysts argue that this was the main reason to allow ISIL fighters back in the region, although US sanctions against Iran may well have played a role as, reportedly, it was cash-strapped Iranian soldiers who were paid by them to assist them with the move.
But Israel’s departure from striking Hezbollah, albeit temporarily, or Iran for that matter, and to concentrate on Assad army units is poor judgment. Since the downing of the Russian plane last year by so-called “friendly fire” of Assad’s anti aircraft batteries—which Israeli jets used to shield themselves against—there was always a new tone set by Moscow which was that the special relationship between Israel and Russia has had its day. Furthermore, a recent comment by Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah that if the Israelis continued to strike Hezbollah in Syria that the Lebanese Shiite group might have to retaliate against Israel with its own high precision rockets, seems to have been taken less seriously as the Lebanese figurehead was talking about Assad regular army as well as his own fighters.
What we’re witnessing in the region is remarkable restraint from Trump, who has proved that he hasn’t the stomach for war with Iran; or, to be more precise, hasn’t the guts to start a war, based on minor military attacks by Iranian proxies in the region towards US allies like Saudi Arabia.
What we’re witnessing in the region is remarkable restraint from Trump, who has proved that he hasn’t the stomach for war with Iran; or, to be more precise, hasn’t the guts to start a war, based on minor military attacks by Iranian proxies in the region towards US allies like Saudi Arabia. We are also seeing extraordinary restraint from Iran and Hezbollah inside Syria towards Israel.
Yet it is Israel, the country with the most to gain from a US strike against Iran, which is behaving like the hapless freelancer with nothing to lose.
Yet it is Israel, the country with the most to gain from a US strike against Iran, which is behaving like the hapless freelancer with nothing to lose. The recent strikes against Assad units simply as a retaliation against those same batteries firing at Israeli jets when they carried out an earlier attack, give a clue as to how deluded and arrogant the Israelis are about their own presence in Syrian airspace and how Netanyahu feels as though international law cannot touch him.
So far, Assad, busy with his campaign to free Idlib of extremists, has also shown remarkable patience with Israel. To date, the much revered Russian-made S-300 anti-missile/aircraft defense missile, which Assad has in his arsenal has not been used once against an Israeli attack. Some analysts argue that Russia doesn’t want him to use the missile in most cases when Israeli jets violate international laws by using Lebanon air space—or even civilian air space over the Mediterranean—not to mention some areas over Syria which are controlled by US forces, as this would draw too much heat.
Consequently, for the moment, Israel capitalizes on the S-300s staying in their bunkers, but the present anti-aircraft batteries the Syrians use are not entirely ineffective, so it is only a matter of time before an Israeli jet is downed, which could escalate tensions in the region and feed the dogs of war in Washington with what they desperately crave.
If that is to happen, then the West, and in particular the UN, needs to prepare itself for a massive Mea Culpa which cannot even be compared to the 2011 Libya gaffe—which was supposed to be an intervention but led to a bloody murder of a dictator and a country falling into the laps of extremists.
London and Washington turn a blind eye to Israel’s attacks as it allows Netanyahu the erroneous indulgence of believing in the mantra that Hezbollah and Iran are bona fide “enemies,” and so they are fair game.
London and Washington turn a blind eye to Israel’s attacks as it allows Netanyahu the erroneous indulgence of believing in the mantra that Hezbollah and Iran are bona fide “enemies,” and so they are fair game. What the West refuses to acknowledge, however, is that the presence of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria is entirely down to them backing an overthrow of Assad in 2011—and, more importantly, financially supporting extremist groups for eight years. So for Israel to hit Assad and his allies is ludicrous, delusional and arrogant, and plainly wrong on many levels, not least of all legally.
In many ways it is a sign of weakness, not strength, as Netanyahu claims that Israel always needs to assert itself and prove its omnipotence, a tactic one normally associates with trigger-happy Americans. But this salient insecurity will have to come with a price at some point as he tests the patience of Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah.
In fact, it is not Trump who is the hot-headed nerdy kid who needs to prove himself in the region. It’s actually Bibi.