With Syria Civil War Over, Israel to Once Again Become Focus of Middle East

It has been a fast moving 24 hours. In what has become America’s worst kept secret, President Trump is pulling out the contingent of 2000 US Troops stationed in eastern Syria. According to reports this decision resulted from a phone call with Turkey’s president Erdogan. The Kurds, America’s strongest ally in terms of fighting on the ground and doing its bidding in the last few years are expected to now become dominated by the Turks. Whether or not ISIS regroups is now a concern for the last remaining contingent of 5000 US Troops in nearby Iraq.

In doing so the United States has removed the last geostrategic barrier preventing Iran from dominating the Fertile Crescent. The oil rich eastern part of Syria was a natural barrier against Iranian entrenchment. Now the only barrier will be left up to the Turks, who are quite cozy with both Iran and Russia. Their own interests largely are to prevent a Kurdish takeover in Syria, but also to spread an Islamic Fundamentalism of its own aspirations around the Middle East. The new Turkey that Erdogan has formed is no second generation Ataturk but a new state which is closer to the Ottoman Empire than to the liberal West that many hoped Turkey would become.

With the Syrian Civil War rapidly coming to a close with a Turkish, Russian, Iranian victory the Middle East will soon return back to where it was before the Arab Spring: an unhealthy obsession with Israel. Already, through the sentiments that were expressed by some countries on the United Nations Security Council meeting today on Hezbollah tunnels, the world is no friend of Israel regardless of how modern and high tech the country has become. Regardless of rumors of a warming with Gulf Arab States, lets be perfectly clear, Israel is being encircled with enemies as bold as ever before. Even if such a warming is indeed an active trend (due to a joint animosity toward Iranian imperialism), can Israel afford the eventual price vis a vis the Palestinians for a future entente with the Sunni Arab World to be realistic and long standing? Such an objective may come at a price too high for Israel to bear, especially considering the current political reality.

Such a reality will de-stabilize with the return of the “Peace Process” through an intense push from President Trump, poised to unveil his “creative proposal”. Already both Russia and EU states are demanding that two central conditions: the 67 lines and East Jerusalem be ceded to the Palestinians. With the world focused on Syria, Israel took advantage to expand its presence in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). However, as the eye turns back toward Israel, for how much longer can Israel expand its control without eliciting a backlash? Netanyahu survives off a right wing government whom embraces expanding Jewish control of Judea and Samaria. They will be unlikely to adhere to a realistic proposal. As such, political instability is likely unless Netanyahu will continue to keep the status quo.

What is delaying the inevitable is Netanyahu’s delicate diplomacy and political brinkmanship and he should be given credit for his plate is increasingly heavy. Spending his day minimizing damaging investigations, he has shown a strength in keeping his hawkish coalition partners in check. Relations with Putin’s Russia have a moderating influence and relations with Trump’s America, thanks in large part to Ivanka and Jared’s direct influence, are the warmest in history. However, appearances can be deceiving. The dance can only continue for as long as the trio hold onto their posts. With mounting scandals targeting Netanyahu, and an unstable Trump presidency, anything can change in the next two years. In addition, Putin is aging and his inevitable successor may not be as kind to Israel as his legacy turned out to be. Already the Russian military is highly suspicious of Israel with a future mismatch highly possible.

It is only a matter of time until a major war will break out likely with both Hamas and Hezbollah at the same time. Tens of thousands of missiles will rain down on Israel and there will be casualties on the home front and soldiers in the battle field. Likely Turkey will rain down fiery rhetoric and the odds of Iranian direct involvement are increasing. The world, while understanding, will largely turn the other way and will condemn Israel for every mistake. Russia will likely shield Iran and its allies in Syria from direct fallout.

All in all these are dangerous times, and the quiet prosperity Israel has been experiencing is borrowed time. The enemies surrounding Israel are much stronger than before, now with clear alliances among them. Israel has an ally in the United States that is growing tired at the civil society level from supporting it especially among the Democrat left. Other countries’ backing except for a few statements of support cannot be taken for granted. Any major flare up will lead to major ramifications and few will truly understand the situation here.

The world is shifting back to a focus on Israel and the geopolitical scene is different. Israel has faced and beaten such odds before however one major mistake and a major conflagration could result. The freedom Israel experienced since the Arab Spring began and especially during the Syrian Civil War next door is coming to a close. Expect an intense few years ahead with a return of the unstable reality Israel has experienced since its founding. It will be roaring back.

About the Author
Born in Israel but raised in Canada, Gil Lewinsky worked as a journalist in Jewish newspapers including the Jerusalem Post after completing a Masters degree at the Munk School of Global Affairs from the University of Toronto. He also has a LLM in International Law from Lancaster University in the UK. His past topics include a book written about the Status of Gaza under International Law soon after its conquest by Hamas in 2007. He is perhaps best known as one of two people that brought a flock of Jacob Sheep from Canada to Israel in 2016, making history. He currently works as a teacher and English public relations professional in Israel.
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