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Russia Isn’t Planning on Leaving the Middle East Anytime Soon and Israel Must Act
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi (L) arrive for talks in Moscow, Russia on March 17, 2021. (Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Russia Isn’t Planning on Leaving the Middle East Anytime Soon and Israel Must Act

Ma’ariv, Israel, March 18

Shortly after the outbreak of the uprising in Daraa in southern Syria 10 years ago, intelligence agencies in the West predicted that President Bashar Assad would step down within a short period of time. Senior officials in Israel gave him a few weeks at most until he packed his belongings and traveled to Tehran, where he would spend the rest of his life. Alas, a decade after these prophecies, Assad is still with us, alive and well. Many lessons can be learned from the Syrian uprising. There was a clear intelligence failure. There was a diplomatic failure. Ultimately, US President Barack Obama’s failure to act against Assad’s use of chemical weapons paved the way for Russia’s entry into the Syrian arena. Moscow, which had always aspired to reach the “warm waters” of the Mediterranean, saw an opportunity unfold before its eyes. Israel originally decided to keep its distance from what is happening in Syria, but not for long. The deteriorating humanitarian condition forced Israel to extend medical assistance to needy Syrians who fought Assad. Later, when Iran and Hizbullah took advantage of the situation in Syria to engage in an indirect military confrontation, Israel had no choice but to get increasingly involved. Today, it’s clear that the international community sees Assad as part of the solution, not the problem. It came to terms with the fact that the demand for his departure is unrealistic. After a decade of fighting, no solution is in sight. Assad now controls two-thirds of his country after defeating his enemies with the help of Hizbullah, Iran, and the Russians. He owes them, and there is no solution to the bloody crisis that will not include them. Assad has effectively relinquished control over Syria’s borders. Nearly 20% of the country’s land and sea borders are controlled by foreign entities. Despite this, Assad’s control of the rest of Syria allows him to survive for a long time. De facto areas of influence have been created. Unlike all other players, Israel has unique considerations. Except for the Russian presence, all the other players in Syria are hostile to Israel. Therefore its conduct must be unique, consisting of more than just periodic military attacks. Diplomacy in quiet channels is also possible. Moscow is a decent partner for Israel. It does not want Iran, Hizbullah, or Turkey in Syria. It wants to be the exclusive landlord over Syria. It is amazing to see how much the Russian interest matches the Israeli one. The convergence of interests between Jerusalem and Moscow is in full swing. We must take advantage of it. –Itzhak Levanon, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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