While a direct confrontation between Israel and Iran is unlikely in the foreseeable future, the two adversaries share three potential war fronts in Lebanon, Syria, and the Gaza Strip. As tensions increase between Israel and Iran, there is speculation as to which front might witness the next confrontation. Importantly, all these fronts are mutually connected in terms of military strategy and political calculations. Click here for my latest analysis.
In the past two months, US officials have been baffled by how to spin President Donald Trump’s hast decision last December to withdraw US forces from Syria. Once again, they were unable to come up with an American strategy. Across the US federal government, the advocates for staying in Syria have been buying time from Trump over the last two years to maintain US presence in the war-torn country. Click here for my latest analysis.
The imminent opening of Nasib could revitalize commercial trade activities in the Levant. However, the end of the Syrian war should not mean a return to business as usual. The Syrian regime is not taking concrete steps that reflect a tangible change of behavior. The United States and Europe can use the leverage of their sanctions on the Syrian regime to urge Moscow to pressure Assad. However, the regional dynamics might force a new reality as Syria’s neighbors are eager to restore trade and provide relief for their economies. Click here to read my latest analysis.
But despite these fears, no real breakthrough in US-Russian relations should be expected until Special Counsel Robert Mueller finalizes his investigation. Lifting US sanctions on Russia, recognizing its annexation of Crimea, and pulling US troops out of Eastern Europe are all off the table for the Helsinki summit; Trump’s hands are tied by US domestic politics. The only issue on which he can concede to lure in the Russian president is the Syrian war. Trump will give up Syria to Putin the way Gorbachev left Iraq to Bush in 1990. Click here to read my latest op-ed.
Lebanon is ahead of the curve in the process of returning Syrian refugees because the question of who controls the border area has been resolved, but there are logistical and political challenges ahead. Jordan could either face a new refugee crisis or see a swift return of refugees if the outcome in southwestern Syria serves Jordanian interests. No matter what happens in the coming months, a large-scale return is unlikely in either Jordan or Lebanon. The return process will not be completed overnight and will take years. Click here to read my latest policy analysis.
Both Washington and Moscow are pressuring their Syrian allies not to escalate. The Syrian regime deployment is meant to strengthen the Russian negotiation position and is restricted to the Jordanian border area only at this point, which means the Russian-Israeli agreement is yet to fully materialize No matter what scenarios might unfold, the US has two options to become relevant once again in southwest Syria: to confront or engage Moscow. Otherwise, the US might become a bargaining chip in a looming deal between the rest of the parties involved. Click here to read my latest op-ed.
Iranian influence is entrenched in Syria and inside the Assad regime itself. Both Moscow and Tehran are fully aware that any political or military confrontation they may have in the areas controlled by the Syrian regime would be detrimental to their interests. As US relations with Russia remain stagnant and Washington increases pressure on Iran, both Moscow and Tehran will continue to recognize that they would benefit more from cooperation rather than rivalry. Putin’s ultimate objective is to establish the rules of the game in Syria. However, the influential powers operating there have a lot at stake and will not surrender their prerogatives to Moscow while gaining nothing in return. Putin’s announcement, therefore, seems to be more of a political stunt and a notice to Iran that Moscow is ready to more forcefully assert its own influence in Syria over that of Tehran. Click here to read my latest blog.
The White House should be mindful that the 1973 Golan Heights ceasefire line is one of the most enduring legacies of US policy in the Middle East. The focus on scrapping the Iran nuclear deal, despite European advice, could lead to setbacks for US influence across the Levant and might entangle the US further in the region. Moreover, Russia’s balancing act between Israel and Iran is entering uncharted territory and tension between them can spin out of control if Putin does not set clear and inviolable rules of engagement. Click here to read my latest blog on the Israeli-Iranian