Friday, 10 July 2015

When Israel gave Bashar Assad a lifeline

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 'Recently, an interesting news item relating to Syria seemed to remain under the public radar. In his book “Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide,” the Israeli former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, wrote of how the Russian plan in 2013 to remove Syria’s chemical arsenal, and in that way avoid an impending American attack against the country, originated with an Israeli minister, Yuval Steinitz.
 The reason Steinitz did so is not difficult to understand. The Israelis saw a golden opportunity to get rid of what worried them most in Syria, namely the regime’s chemical weapons. They were far less concerned with seeing Assad and his acolytes punished for having deployed such weapons against civilians. Once the deal was agreed, Oren writes, “the phrase ‘Assad must go’ vanished from [Barack] Obama’s vocabulary.”
 Nothing has really changed since the CIA director, John Brennan, told the Council on Foreign Relations last March that the “last thing we want to do is to allow [ISIS and other jihadist groups] to march into Damascus.” Brennan had added then, “That’s why it’s important to bolster those forces within the Syrian opposition that are not extremists.” However, at the catatonic rate the U.S. is training such forces, the chances that “moderates” will soon change the tide in Syria is negligible.
 Whether we are talking about the United States or Israel, Assad has imposed on both a very successful “either-or” equation – “It’s either Assad or chaos.” That has given the Syrian president and Iran tremendous leverage over Washington and Tel Aviv. This will only increase when, as is likely, the Americans and Iranians reach a nuclear deal. Once that happens, Iranian funds to assist Assad will be freed up and the Obama administration may more firmly recognize an Iranian “sphere of influence” in Syria. That will not sit well with Israel, but the complexities of the situation will most probably expand Assad’s margin of political survival.
 Obama should bear in mind what he said about Assad. Syria’s war will not end while he remains in power. But the U.S. president has seemed unwilling to pursue his own logic in Syria. Bashar Assad has lasted thanks to such incoherence.'

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