(July 8, 2018 / JNS)
White flags were waved over the weekend in Daraa in southern Syria, precisely where seven-and-a-half years ago, the flags of rebellion and revolution were hoisted to spark the eruption of the Syrian civil war.
For a while, it seemed that the rebels could topple the brutal regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but they failed to form a united, effective diplomatic and military front to lead them to victory. Instead, they let radical Islamist groups, such as Islamic State or Nusra Front, abscond with their revolution and turn it into a religious war.
The rebels never had any true allies, the kind willing to throw themselves into the Syrian quagmire. Their backers—mainly Gulf States or in the case of Western countries, the United States—sufficed with sending money and aimless sympathy, but mostly refused to help with action.
On the other side, meanwhile, the Russians and Iranians rallied to Assad’s side and carried him to victory by waging all-out war on the rebels and their supporters. Nearly half a million Syrians paid with their lives; another 2 million were wounded and around 10 million lost their homes, 8 million of whom sought refuge in other countries.
Assad’s victory, however, is hollow and deficient for two reasons. Syria has been almost completely destroyed. It will take years and mainly billions of dollars to rehabilitate the country. Secondly and more importantly, Assad owes his victory to the Russians and Iranians, who actually call the shots in Syria now.
Israel has come to terms with Assad’s victory and his expected return to the border frontier on the Golan Heights. Israel decided early on to stay out of the war, and once the Russians set foot on Syrian soil, the Israeli government prioritized bolstering diplomatic ties with Moscow, even at the cost of Assad remaining in power.
In any case, ever since the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the Assad family has upheld the quiet along the Golan border. Jerusalem hasn’t forgotten this either.
Israel’s most pressing challenge in the north, however, is the Iranian presence, which no one seems wanting or capable of terminating. Israel has decided to do this job itself. Now, as the war in Syria enters its final stages, the focus will shift to Tehran’s next moves and Israel’s attempt to counter them.
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.