Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad boldly lied in an interview last week on Russian TV, saying “We do not have Iranian troops” in Syria. “We never did,” he said, – despite conclusive proof to the contrary.
Syria refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, as do a number of Arab states, and has warred against the country since Israel’s inception in 1948. The U.S. and Russia brokered a fragile peace between the two countries in 2016, but any hope for that peace was shattered as Syria’s civil war gave Iran a growing foothold in Syria.
Israel cannot tolerate Iran on its doorstep.
Syria’s civil war initially had nothing to do with Israel. Now that war’s very focus is on destroying Israel. How did that happen?
Springing from Good Intentions
Syria’s civil war started in 2011 as part of the “Arab Spring” pro-democracy demonstrations that toppled the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt. When Syrian President Bashar al-Assad brutally cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrators in his secular country, anti-government militias formed to oust his dictatorship.
A grassroots desire for democracy sparked the war in Syria.
Unfortunately, this same instability opened the door to fundamentalist Islamic Jihadists. They also fought the government, but their goal was to collapse secularism and bring Islamic dominance, not to usher in democracy. These groups include ISIS, Hamas and al-Nusra, “who wish to destroy secular Islam and Western society through terrorism and bring back to the world a period of religious Muslim rule,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library.
In 2015, Russia began supporting Assad’s government in hopes of returning stability to the Middle East by pushing back the growing control of ISIS and its vicious brutality.
Then Iran, Iraq and Lebanon-based Hezbollah rushed in to support Assad for the same purpose, to defeat ISIS. Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia backed anti-Assad rebels, but for the same reason: to defeat ISIS. The U.S. armed anti-Assad rebels to fight ISIS and began bombing ISIS targets in 2016.
The good news is that, as a result of those disparate efforts, ISIS and its al-Qaeda cousin, al-Nusra, are nearly eliminated from Syria. The bad news: Assad can turn his eyes back to his original goal of eliminating Israel, and Iran is there to support that effort.
It’s Now Iran vs. Israel
Israel ramped up its humanitarian assistance to Syrian war victims in 2016 but has continued clandestine strikes to limit Iran’s ability to entrench itself in Syria. The first direct attack against Iran occurred after an Iran-backed drone penetrated Israeli air space in February 2018.
Iran – which has gone on the record in saying it will eliminate Israel – has supplied weapons to its own proxies, such as the terrorist organization Hezbollah, which attacked Israeli borders from both Syria and Lebanon. Iran also built military bases in Syria.
Israel has carried out air strikes against convoys transporting Iranian weapons, and it has stepped up air strikes to target Iran interests in Syria in recent weeks.
CNN reported on May 10 that “a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces pinned the blame for the rocket fire on the Quds Force, an elite division of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, which has forces in Syria and is often seen as the face of Iran's regional ambitions.”
Why Assad Lied
As I reported last week, The Jerusalem Post quoted a Syrian opposition newspaper as saying, “The commander of the Syrian Air Force has decided Syria will no longer allow Iranian-backed Shiite factions to use its bases to store ammunition and host fighters.” The report gave credit to stepped-up Israeli air attacks against Iran in Syria as precipitating that decision. Analysts called the move “the first step in a process leading to a Syrian demand that Iranian-backed forces leave Syria.”
The U.S. and Russia are now tasked with protecting Israel’s borders from Iran-backed terrorists.
"There are Iranian forces and there is Iranian presence in Syria, everybody knows that," said Israel's Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz of Assad's claim there were none. "Iranian troops and even a general were killed in Syria, both recently and in the past. This isn't the first time Assad has lied. He also said there were no chemical weapons in Syria, and that he never used chemical weapons – and we know the truth behind that," Steinitz told Ynet in a recent interview.
Is it possible Assad lied about Iranian forces as part of a public relations effort to change semantics rather than give up its alliance with two nations intent on eliminating Israel?
We’ll find out in the coming weeks.