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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Syria’s Bashar Assad Must Go

Filed under: Hizbullah, Iran, Operation Swords of Iron, Syria

Syria’s Bashar Assad Must Go
Bashar Assad embraced the Iranian Supreme Leader in 2019. (Khamenei’s office)

Since the outburst of the civil war in 2011, Syria has become dependent on Iran and its proxies for its survival. Syria now faces bitter enemies rallied around the goal of getting rid of the Alawite-led minority and installing a Sunni-led regime instead.In return for the support the Syrian regime received from Iran, Bashar Assad transformed Syria’s territory into a corridor through which Iran transfers military equipment to Hizbullah. Syria puts its airports, defense facilities, Mediterranean ports, and territory at the service of Hizbullah unconditionally. In exchange for its active participation in the civil war, Iran’s Shiite militia partners were allowed to deploy along the Syrian-Lebanese border in the Golan Heights. Hizbullah was welcomed to Syria’s training facilities, research institutes to develop chemical weapons, and laboratories where precision-guided systems are adapted to the Iranian missiles shipped to Hizbullah in Lebanon by the thousands.

Iran did not spare any effort to build Hizbullah’s formidable firepower: from medium and long-range missiles with deadly warheads to reconnaissance drones, attack drones, anti-tank guided missiles, sniper rifles, ground-to-sea missiles, miniature submarines, army boots, and gear.

Hizbullah, with Iran’s active contribution, built itself into a war machine unequaled in the Middle East Muslim countries.

In the past, Israel chose to extend humanitarian assistance to the factions fighting against the regime while promoting the idea that Israel preferred Bashar Assad’s regime rather than having to cope with Islamist groups that would topple the regime. Israel preferred stability in Syria and reluctantly resigned itself to the alliance with Iran and Hizbullah.

However, Israel tried its best to stop the flow of equipment from Iran to Hizbullah. In a campaign nicknamed “the battle between the war,” Israel conducted hundreds of air strikes in Syrian territory (some in Hizbullah’s home turf in Lebanon and others deep in the eastern Middle East) to block and destroy weaponry designed by Iran to enter the Lebanese territory and arm Hizbullah. The Israeli raids demolished airstrips, decommissioned civilian airports, and attacked depots, military installations, warehouses, and convoys whenever it could and wherever the intelligence allowed to administer a blow.Still, according to diverse Israeli assessments, Israel succeeded in blocking barely ten percent of the weaponry shipped by Iran to Hizbullah. The Shiite militia became a formidable war machine capable of confronting Israel, carrying out multiple provocations while developing a growing deterrence vis-a-vis Israel.

Screenshot of a Hizbullah military exercise in southern Lebanon on May 21, 2023
Screenshot of a Hizbullah military exercise in southern Lebanon on May 21, 2023 (RT Arabic)

In the last year, Hizbullah has gained in audacity and has expressed on more than one occasion that since the year 2000, when Israel withdrew from Lebanon under the pressure of Hizbullah, it has scored various diplomatic gains facing Israel at the expense of Israel’s deterrence.

Hizbullah has been provoking Israel for the last year and coordinating under Iranian guidance together with Palestinian terrorist factions a plan to encircle Israel in a united front extending from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, the Gaza Strip, Judea, and Samaria, and Yemen.Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbullah’s chief, declared that his terrorist movement had been at war with Israel since October 8, 2023, the day after Hamas terrorists launched its genocidal attack on Israel’s communities along the border with Gaza.Syria has chosen not to proclaim its support for Hamas or Hizbullah publicly. However, it has allowed the safe passage of Iraqi Shiite militias to Lebanon, permitted militias to beef up the Syrian deployment facing Israel in the Golan, and fired missiles into Israeli territory. Moreover, Syrian artillery is actively engaged in shelling American outposts in eastern Syria and allowing the use of its airspace for Iraqi militias, which fire rockets and drones toward Israel and American bases.What options do Israel (and the United States) have? In the context of the present lineup facing Israel, a better choice would be to hit the weak link, which is Syria.

Instead of waging an all-out war with Hizbullah in Lebanon, Israel should concentrate on Syria. There is no moral justification for the continued existence of a regime that exterminated half a million of its citizens, displaced millions of refugees who fled to Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, and Europe, and displaced millions inside Syria for the sake of saving its regime.

The prospect of losing Bashar Assad and the risks of an ensuing civil war would undoubtedly alarm Tehran and Hizbullah, who would be compelled to “forget” about the front with Israel and concentrate instead on saving Bashar Assad.

The fall of Bashar Assad would have dire repercussions on the axis of evil led by Iran and possibly present a tremor impossible to contain, a scenario that would also mean the end of Hamas in Gaza, left to fight on its own against the Israeli assault.