Assad must go

There won’t be a real change in Syria until Bashar al-Assad will leave his office

In the 20 years since he was “elected” as President of Syria after the death of his father, Hafez, Bashar al-Assad has become a strategic problem for the State of Israel because of his deep commitment to Hezbollah and Iran.

His “contribution” to Hezbollah’s foce buildup has turned the Lebanese organization into a real army, which in any future conflict will cause Israel severe damage. Without Assad leaving the presidential palace in Damascus, there will not be real ability to diminish the influence of Khamenei and Nasrallah in the country.

Ostensibly Bashar al-Assad appears to be one of the most favorable Arab leaders of the State of Israel. Cautions, refrain from responding to Israeli attacks on the country’s territory, and even at one time was also willing to discuss terms for a peace treaty with Israel. In addition, despite much brutality in the Syrian civil war, Assad’s forces (along with external help) have succeeded in pushing back a common enemy to Israel and Syria – the global jihad elements that have managed to consolidate in Syria.

It seems that Various elements have “indulged” in the image of Assad Jr. (weak and hesitant), ignoring the fact that behind the scenes, Bashar al-Assad’s helped to transform Hezbollah to the most powerful military enemy Israel faces. Hezbollah’s “free passage” to all strategic weapons found in the Syrian army, and the transfer of some of the most advanced capabilities held by the Syrian army to Lebanon (including anti-aircraft systems and seaside missiles), has exponentially doubled the Lebanese organization’s military capabilities.

Furthermore, the control of the Quds Force and members of Hezbollah’s transfer unit at the airports and border crossings between Syria and Lebanon have turned Syria into a Highway in which Iranian knowledge and capabilities are transferred from Iran to the Lebanese organization.

In addition, Assad allowed Hezbollah to settle in the Syrian Golan Heights, threatening Israel with the opening of another front when war breaks out between the sides. Only recently there have been a number of incidents in this area that have highlighted the fact that Iran and Hezbollah under the approval or supervision of Syrian officers, have been able to establish terrorist cells in the Golan Heights targeting Israel.

A special chapter could be written about the Syrian president’s ambitions in the unconventional track. His attempts to produce nuclear weapons (for which he did not pay a real price) and his reliance on his chemical arsenal should also turn on a red light because of concerns about the posibillity of transferring unconventional capabilities into the hands of undesirable elements, and especially Assad’s willingness to use those capabilities if he stands with his back to the wall.

But, Various events in recent months can create the political climate that is necessary to push for a deep change in Syria:

  • Iran leaders are forced to deal with “domestic” rather than regional issues given the economic crisis in the country
  • Hezbollah’s deep involvement in Lebanese politics, which comes at the expense of its regional involvement.
  • The death of Qasem Soleimani, who was one of the main elements linking Damascus and Tehran.
  • the Corona epidemic increases the social difficulties in those countries.
  • Russia’s dissatisfactory with Asaad inability to come to terms with the Syrian opposition
  • Turkey’s willingness to overthrow Assad
  • The Caesar Act passed by the US administration, that increases the economic crisis in Syria and is putting obstacles in front of any country seeking to interact with the Assad regime

It won’t be easy, and will require extraordinary coordination (Russia Israel, Turkey, the US for example) but there is more possibility for this moves than in previous years.

The main concern about Assad’s toppling is the return of global jihad to Syria. Even if the likeness of this scenario increases, it is more likely it threatens Hezbollah, the Syrian army and the Shi’ite militias in Iraq (stationed in Syria) because they are the first and immediate enemies of those elements.

The bottom line is that Assad’s removal will dramatically weaken Iran and Hezbollah’s control of Syria. Assad’s continued control ensures Hezbollah will recive strategic weapons and capabilities from the Syrian Arsenal, and Iran’s continued presence in the country. As long as Israel is engaged in (mostly tactical) attacks against various Iranian militia sites in Syria, and do not initiate any political move that will end Assad’s control, there will be no strategic change Syria.

About the Author
23+ years of experience in 8200, IDI Research Division and the Israeli Embassy in the US. Retired from the Israel Defense Forces Senior fellow at the Abba Eban institute.