In recent weeks Israel has increased efforts to convey messages to the Assad regime via Russia detailing its vital security interests, including an outline of its ‘red lines.’
These efforts are taking place against the backdrop of military defeats of the Islamic State in the killing fields of Iraq and Syria.
Most military experts are well aware that concerted international efforts will soon bear fruit, despite the contradictory interests of various warring parties.
Israeli decision-makers at both the military and government echelons know very well that a new era – in which the shape of a future Syria will be determined – is imminent. It is also clear that Syria will not return to be a “normal” state, as it was before civil war broke out six years ago.
Israel fears that when Assad again consolidates his grip on power it will lead to the deployment of Iranian, Hezbollah or other Shi’ite militias along the Golan Heights border. That possibility is now the most serious concern on the minds of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot and his General Staff, even more than the transfer – from Iran via Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon – of long-range, precise missiles, which has occasionally triggered Israeli air strikes inside Syria.
As a result, Israel is trying to advance its agenda and influence the various parties and processes within the international community, in order to reach a post-war agreement that will regulate the situation in Syria.
Various ideas have been raised in recent consultations among the military, the prime minister and the defense minister. One, is a promise to reduce involvement in Syria – with actions such as the recent air strikes and many others, some of which have been officially admitted – in return for a Syrian commitment to keep its Shi’ite-Iranian allies from the border.
If Israel manages to reach a tacit understanding along these lines there is reason that the Syrian army will be welcome.
It’s worth mentioning that the Syrian Army has the right to deploy along the border, according to the Agreement on Disengagement reached in 1974, the year after the Yom Kippur War. However, most of those positions have now been taken over by rebels forces in the course of the current war. Today, most of the border is controlled by al-Qaida, ISIS and so-called “moderate” rebels. The only place where remnants of the Assad army are currently found is near Mount Hermon in the North.
It is no secret that the major force exerting the biggest influence on Damascus is Russia, which practically saved the regime from collapse by deploying its military – mainly its air force – 18 months ago.
The keys to an agreement are in Moscow, which explains why Netanyahu has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin five times in the last a year-and-a-half and spoken by phone with him at least two dozen times.
In one conversation between the two leaders and their teams, Netanyahu and Israeli military officials raised the idea of some sort of non-aggression pact with Assad.
Putin showed interest in the idea, according to some sources, saying that he understood the concerns and vital security interests of Israel. He also reportedly was clear in reiterating that all foreign armies, including Iran and Hezbollah, will leave Syria once the war is over. But, he said, his No. 1 priority at that moment was to defeat ISIS and end the war with an agreement.