SYRIAN BALANCE OF POWER COULD POSE STRATEGIC THREAT TO ISRAEL Posted on January 31, 2017 Should Israel Maintain Its Policy of Non-Intervention in Syria?: Prof. Hillel Frisch, BESA, Jan. 26, 2017— Groupthink in Israel should have been laid to rest after the Agranat Commission’s investigation into the massive intelligence failure preceding the Yom Kippur War. Putin's Syria: Success Through Strength: Prof. Eyal Zisser, Israel Hayom, Jan. 25, 2017— The peace talks that began last week in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, between the sides fighting in Syria have yet to produce a breakthrough that would end the bloody war being fought by our neighbors for almost six years now — and it is doubtful they ever will. Palestinians of Syria: A Year of Killings and Torture: Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute, Jan. 23, 2017— 2016 was a tough year for the Palestinians. Obama’s View of Syria Threat Level Shaped Legacy of Caution: Carol E. Lee, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2017— President Barack Obama entered the Oval Office with a promise not to engage the U.S. in protracted and messy conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. On Topic Links Sanctioning the Syrians: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Jan. 23, 2017 Syria: The Bottom Line of Political Accommodation: Frederic C. Hof, Defense News, Jan. 19, 2017 New Challenges From Israel’s East and North: Eric R. Mandel, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 24, 2017 Why Did Russia Offer Autonomy for Syria’s Kurds?: Al-Monitor, Jan. 29, 2017 SHOULD ISRAEL MAINTAIN ITS POLICY OF NON-INTERVENTION IN SYRIA? Prof. Hillel Frisch BESA, Jan. 26, 2017 Groupthink in Israel should have been laid to rest after the Agranat Commission’s investigation into the massive intelligence failure preceding the Yom Kippur War. The Commission not only censured Israel’s elite for its failure to discern the coming Egyptian and Syrian attack, due to a set of uncontested assumptions that proved totally false, but advocated the establishment of a variety of independent institutional sources of information to assure that such an event would not occur again. That has proved easier said than done. Groupthink again seems to prevail over Israel’s position on Syria. All praise Israel’s current policy, which limits Israel’s involvement in the Syrian civil war to clearly defined red lines: to prevent the flow of weapons to Hezbollah that threaten the balance of power, and to prevent the establishment of a Hezbollah/Iranian Revolutionary Guard military presence in southern Syria bordering the Israeli Golan Heights. Israel has acted forcefully to maintain both of these red lines. But the balance of power between Syria and its ally Iran against their opponents has changed significantly since the Russian intervention in September 2015. The defeat of the rebels in Aleppo restored complete regime control over that city, the country’s largest and arguably richest city before the civil war. The regime has also made gains in the southern outskirts of Damascus. The Iranian-Hezbollah alliance in Lebanon has succeeded in placing its candidate in the presidential palace. Above all, ethnic cleansing is taking place in southern Syria bordering Israel’s Golan Heights, and in areas east of Damascus bordering Lebanon (where the Syrians and Hezbollah are driving out Sunnis and replacing them with Shiites from Iraq and Lebanon[i]). These are sufficient developments to seriously question the sagacity of Israel’s “hands-off” approach to Syria. Syria, backed by Iran and Hezbollah, is creating the physical underpinnings of an imperial, Iran-dominated, Shiite-Alawite crescent extending from Tehran to Beirut to Syria’s south. This is to the detriment of Israel’s long-term strategic interests, as well as to the interests of moderate Sunni states such as Jordan. Recall that these gains supplement Iran’s success in securing the nuclear deal. It is also worthy of note that Saad al-Hariri, the leader of Lebanon’s largest, mostly Sunni party and the fiercest opponent of Hezbollah and its allies in the political arena (an international court ruled that this alliance assassinated Saad’s father, Rafik, the prime minister of Lebanon, in 2004), felt compelled to support the Syrian-Iranian-Hezbollah-backed candidate. This demonstrates how Hariri, Israel’s silent partner, perceives the changing balance of power. He did it only out of fear. Just as Hariri perceives the threat, so should Israel. Yet Israel’s security establishment, major politicians, journalists, and commentators are failing to take note of the strategic threat these developments collectively pose to Israel and the need to debate the existing strategy. The threat has far-reaching geo-strategic implications that transcend by far the “technical” perception of the Syrian civil war that pervades the Israeli establishment’s groupthink. The question is, what should Israel’s strategy be towards Syria? The most important issue is to initiate a serious debate over Israeli objectives, which of course will have to take into consideration relations with Russia, a possible understanding between Presidents Trump and Putin over Syria, and even Turkish interests in the country. Still, the following objectives might be included: Israel could publicly declare that the political future of Syria impinges on Israel’s security and therefore justifies a more proactive posture to assure an outcome favorable to Israeli interests. The major Israeli interest is to see a democratic regime in Syria. This means the removal of Assad and his supporters, who cannot possibly allow democracy to emerge in Syria. Announcing this objective must naturally take into account its possible repercussions in terms of Israeli-Russian relations. Israel could declare the position that if a democratic regime proves impossible, the Sunnis, after fifty years of oppression, deserve a state of their own in most of Syria. Israel should publicly state that it will cooperate with the Syrian opposition and the moderate Sunni Arab states to achieve either the second or third objective and will support the moderate rebel groups to thwart Assad’s ethnic cleansing. It is important to note that Hariri acted as he did in part because the Sunnis in Syria and supporters of democracy from other sects, including the Alawites, are not getting nearly the backing the Assad regime is getting from its allies. Israel, a much more powerful state than it was in the past, should play a role in redressing this imbalance. Israel cannot possibly be a king-maker after the US failure in Iraq or its own failure in Lebanon in 1982 to create a Maronite-dominated Lebanon. But that does not mean the Jewish State cannot work with Syrian forces towards creating a geo-strategic scenario in its favor in Syria. Just as doing too much can be costly, so can passivity prove dangerous. It is not in Israel’s interest to allow its major enemies to carve out the Syria they want. At the very least, a debate should take place over Israel’s present policies on Syria. Contents PUTIN'S SYRIA: SUCCESS THROUGH STRENGTH Prof. Eyal Zisser Israel Hayom, Jan. 25, 2017 The peace talks that began last week in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, between the sides fighting in Syria have yet to produce a breakthrough that would end the bloody war being fought by our neighbors for almost six years now — and it is doubtful they ever will. Despite this, the talks are an important step in the right direction, and were inconceivable a few months ago. They are a meaningful diplomatic accomplishment, thanks entirely to Russian President Vladimir Putin, the most powerful man in the Middle East today. Putin's accomplishments demonstrate just how hollow and void of meaning the slogans and cliches are that have been repeated by many in Israel and around the world on the need to find a "fair mediator," one that will act to achieve a "just peace" as a condition necessary to achieving regional peace between Israel and its neighbors, first and foremost between Israel and the Palestinians. After all, the peace Putin is pushing in Syria is not a "just peace," but rather a peace of the powerful, completely based on force and interests. Apart from that, Putin is far from being a "fair mediator." He is a mediator with interests who took a clear stance on one side of the conflict, President Bashar Assad's side, and even joined the fight with him. Regardless, Putin succeeded where the hypocritical international community failed. They preached, but did nothing for the civilian population or to advance the values of justice and morality. Indeed, the war in Syria would have continued in full force if things were up to Washington alone, to New York (where the U.N. General Assembly meets), or to Brussels (where the EU sits). What is surprising is how over the past year Putin hit the Syrian rebel faction with all his might, killing thousands of their people and supporters. He flattened villages and towns mercilessly and sowed destruction and ruin that caused tens, maybe hundreds of thousands, of civilians to flee, whether they supported the rebels or were just caught in areas of conflict. And now the rebels are crawling on their bellies to kiss Putin's striking hand, or perhaps the soles of his shoes. What is even more surprising is that the military presence Washington maintains across the Middle East — soldiers, planes and warships — is 10 times as big as the Russian military presence in Syria. The Russians only had to send several dozen planes and a small fleet of ships, and America's standing in the Middle East reached an unprecedented slump. Everyone ignores them, as U.S. President Donald Trump saw fit to bring to light. Putin, on the other hand, is respected and held in awe in the Middle East. By the way, the other side of the coin is that Putin, unwavering in his method and interests, does not ascribe much importance to Assad, even though Putin sent Russian planes and soldiers to Syria to protect him. Assad was not even invited to talks in Moscow last month, where Russia agreed along with Turkey and Iran on a road map to end the fighting in Syria. Even in his partnerships with Iran and Turkey, Putin acts on the principle of divide and conquer, taking advantage of the animosity and competition between the two for his own interests and to raise the standing of Russia. The lessons of Putin's successes — the military and of late also the diplomatic — are worthy of being learned and incorporated also in Israel. The key to success in our region is not eloquence, sweet talking, flattery or trying to appease the listener, but standing up for our interests resolutely and showing strength. Whoever wishes to advance Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and maybe even achieve a breakthrough, should pay attention to these things. If U.S. President Donald Trump wants to push for a treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, he would do well to ignore those who call on him to distance himself from Israel and renege on his campaign promise of moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem. This is not the way to win the hearts of the Arabs, and not the way to promote peace and stability in our region. Contents PALESTINIANS OF SYRIA: A YEAR OF KILLINGS AND TORTURE Khaled Abu Toameh Gatestone Institute, Jan. 23, 2017 2016 was a tough year for the Palestinians. It was tough not only for those Palestinians living in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority (PA) regime, or the Gaza Strip under Hamas. When Westerners hear about the "plight" and "suffering" of Palestinians, they instantly assume that the talk is about those living in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Rarely does the international community hear about what is happening to Palestinians in the Arab countries. This lapse doubtless exists because the misery of Palestinians in the Arab countries is difficult to pin on Israel. The international community and mainstream journalists only know of those Palestinians living in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Of course, life under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas is no box of dates, although this inconvenient fact might be rather unpleasant to the ears of Western journalists and human rights organizations. In any event, mainstream media outlets seem to prefer turning a blind eye to the plight of Palestinians living in Arab countries. This evasion harms first and foremost the Palestinians themselves and allows Arab governments to continue their policies of persecution and repression. The past few years have seen horror stories about the conditions of Palestinians in Syria. Where is the media attention for the Palestinians in this war-stricken country? Palestinians in Syria are being murdered, tortured, imprisoned and displaced. The West yawns. Foreign journalists covering the Middle East swarm by the hundreds throughout Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Yet they act as if Palestinians can only be found in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These journalists have no desire to go to Syria or other Arab countries to report about the mistreatment and trespasses perpetrated by Arabs against their Palestinian brothers. For these journalists, Arabs killing and torturing other Arabs is not news. But when Israeli policemen shoot and kill a Palestinian terrorist who rams his truck into a group of soldiers and kills and wounds them, Western reporters rush to visit his family's home to interview them and provide them with a platform to express their thoughts. Palestinians living in Syria, however, are less fortunate. No one is asking how they feel about the devastation of their families, communities and lives. Especially not the hundreds of Middle East correspondents working in the region. "The year 2016 was full of all forms of killings, torture and displacement of Palestinians in Syria," according to recent reports published in a number of Arab media outlets. "The last year was hell for these Palestinians and its harsh consequences will not be erased for many years to come. During 2016, Palestinians in Syria were subjected to the cruelest forms of torture and deprivation at the hands armed gangs and the ruling Syrian regime. It is hard to find one Palestinian family in Syria that has not been affected." According to the reports, Syrian authorities are withholding the bodies of more than 456 Palestinians who died under torture in prison. No one knows exactly where the bodies are being held or why the Syrian authorities are refusing to hand them over to the relatives. Even more disturbing are reports suggesting that Syrian authorities have been harvesting the organs of dead Palestinians. Testimonies collected by some Palestinians point to a Syrian government-linked gang that has been trading in the organs of the victims, who include women and children. Another 1,100 Palestinians have been languishing in Syrian prisons since the beginning of the war, more than five years ago. The Syrian authorities do not provide any statistics about the number of prisoners and detainees; nor do they allow human rights groups or the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons and detention centers. The most recent report about the plight of Palestinians in Syria states that 3,420 Palestinians (455 of them females) have been killed since the beginning of the war. The report, published by the Action Group For Palestinians of Syria, also reveals that nearly 80,000 Palestinians have fled to Europe, while 31,000 fled to Lebanon, 17,000 to Jordan, 6,000 to Egypt, 8,000 to Turkey and 1,000 to the Gaza Strip. The report also mentions that 190 Palestinians died as a result of malnutrition and lack of medical care because their refugee camps and villages are under siege by the Syrian army and armed groups. Alarmed by the indifference of the international community to their plight, Palestinians in Syria have resorted to social media to be heard in the hope that decision-makers in the West or the UN Security Council, obsessed as they are with Israeli settlements, might pay attention to their suffering. The latest campaign on social media, entitled, "Where are the detainees?" refers to the unknown fate of those Palestinians who have gone missing after being taken into custody by Syrian authorities. The organizers of the campaign revealed that in the past few years, 54 Palestinian minors have died under torture in Syrian prisons. The organizers noted that hundreds of prisoners and detainees, after they were apprehended by the Syrian authorities, remain unaccounted for… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents OBAMA’S VIEW OF SYRIA THREAT LEVEL SHAPED LEGACY OF CAUTION Carol E. Lee Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2017 President Barack Obama entered the Oval Office with a promise not to engage the U.S. in protracted and messy conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan. As he leaves, his adherence to that promise is muddying his foreign-policy legacy because of how he handled another Mideast crisis: Syria. For almost six of Mr. Obama’s eight years in the White House, the conflict in Syria has repeatedly evolved—and the president’s cautious decision-making has appeared one step behind. Mr. Obama has emphasized the use of diplomacy first, coalition building and assisting local forces on the ground rather than deploying large numbers of U.S. troops. He aimed to avoid putting American troops in harm’s way in potentially open-ended conflicts when he didn’t see a direct threat to U.S. national security. That was his early assessment of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad in 2011, and he has maintained it through his last day in office on Friday. That view—that the conflict wasn’t a direct threat to U.S. national-security interests—led the Obama administration to a series of delays or rejections of policy prescriptions and led the president to repeatedly conclude that military intervention would put America on a trajectory toward another full-scale war in the Middle East. That view was also the impetus for Mr. Obama’s rejection of a recommendation early in the war from top national security advisers to train and arm rebels fighting the Assad regime. It dissuaded him from creating a no-fly zone in Syria as some of his advisers and U.S. allies repeatedly urged him to do. And it helped inform his decisions to seek congressional approval for military strikes in Syria after Mr. Assad crossed the U.S. president’s self-imposed “red line” by using chemical weapons, and—before Congress voted—to pull back from using force and agree to a Russian plan to remove most of the Syrian regime’s stockpile. As Mr. Obama hands over a metastasized crisis to his successor, the question looms of whether Syria could have turned out differently. “There are a lot of people that bear responsibility for what happened, and I think the United States included,” said Leon Panetta, who served as Mr. Obama’s defense secretary and director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and was one of the advisers pressing the president to arm the rebels early in the conflict. He pointed to whether Mr. Obama should have authorized a no-fly zone, aided opposition forces earlier in the conflict and enforced his red line with force in 2013. “That’s the lesson of these last three years: that ultimately the consequences of not taking action are going to represent a threat to our national security,” Mr. Panetta said. Mr. Obama acknowledges that his Syria policy hasn’t been effective in resolving the conflict. But he also argues it has kept the U.S. out of another protracted conflict in the Middle East that would put tens of thousands of U.S. troops at risk and cost potentially billions more dollars. “Whenever we went through it, the challenge was that…it was going to be impossible to do this on the cheap,” the president said at a news conference last month. As Mr. Obama adhered to his approach, Syria evolved from an internal civil war in 2011 to a breeding ground for the Islamic State terrorist group, the source of the largest migrant crisis since World War II and a shift in regional power structures with the increased military role of Russia. As pressure from Republicans in Congress, U.S. allies in the Middle East and the Washington foreign-policy establishment mounted on Mr. Obama to take stronger military action, aides say the president would sum up his doctrine during meetings in four words: “Don’t do stupid shit.” Some see in his approach a steadfastness to support a principle. “It says a lot about his view that he never buckled to the pressure just to ‘do something,’ ” said Philip Gordon, who served as the president’s adviser on Middle East and North Africa in his second term. “That took a real amount of discipline on his part.”… [To Read the Full Article Click the Following Link—Ed.] Contents On Topic Links Sanctioning the Syrians: Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham, BESA, Jan. 23, 2017—On January 12, eight days before the end of the Obama administration, a last-minute, “too late too little” move was taken in the form of sanctions against 18 Syrian individuals and one organization involved in the military use of chlorine against Syrian civilians in 2014-15. (Notably, more chlorine attacks were carried out by the Bashar Assad regime in 2016.) Syria: The Bottom Line of Political Accommodation: Frederic C. Hof, Defense News, Jan. 19, 2017—Syria’s political fate comes down to a man, his extended family and his political entourage. When President Bashar Assad decided in March 2011 on a violently brutal response to peaceful protest, he separated himself from the interests of his citizenry. When he embarked on a survival strategy featuring mass homicide, he facilitated the rise of the Islamic State group as a political foil and created a humanitarian abomination that made Syria’s problems the problems of all its neighbors and western Europe. New Challenges From Israel’s East and North: Eric R. Mandel, Jerusalem Post, Jan. 24, 2017—With the emergence of Iranian hegemony from Afghanistan to Beirut, Israel’s security and intelligence establishment is watching not only threats from Gaza and Lebanon, but also other areas of potential instability, including locations that have been quiet for years; the Golan Heights and Jordan. Why Did Russia Offer Autonomy for Syria’s Kurds?: Al-Monitor, Jan. 29, 2017—UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura praised the Russian-brokered Syria talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, which ended Jan. 24, as a “concrete step” toward implementation of United Nations Security Council resolutions dealing with Syria, commending Russia, Turkey and Iran for setting up a mechanism to ensure compliance with the cease-fire announced last month.