The latest Israeli strike on Iranian targets in Syria follows a series of precision strikes by unknown players on the Russian enclave in Latakia, during which several Russian aircraft were hit and several of the attacking drones were intercepted by the Russians. Initially attributed to some “ISIS mortar attack” which is impossible given the nature and precision of the damage to the Russian base, it may be now attributed either to Gulf state commandos or Allawite opposition elements located in the vicinity of Latakia who are opposed to the Russian presence , and were armed and guided accordingly by embedded gulf state advisers.
Much of this military activity can be attributed to arm twisting maneuvers towards the upcoming consultations in Washington regarding Syria, as the following analysis suggests.
A broad, purposeful assessment of policy on Syrian president Bashar Assad’s political future has been scheduled for the rest of the week in Washington, DEBKAfile reports. This event accounts for the timing of Israel’s purported air strikes from Lebanese air space, which Syrian state media claimed targeted the Al Qutaiba base east of Damascus before dawn on Tuesday, Jan. 9.
DEBKAfile’s Washington sources reveal that the deliberations in the White House are to be led by high officials of US government branches involved in Syrian policy. Invited too are senior European diplomats from Britain, Germany, France and Italy, and representatives from Asia, led by Japan and India. The conference has been called to hammer out a unified US-European-Asian policy for determining the shape of the regime in post-war Syria and Assad’s future role. The Trump administration intends to come out of these deliberations with a broadly-based US-led coalition policy for Syria that will challenge Vladimir Putin’s plans for leading Syria from war to peace in conjunction with Iran and Turkey.
The American scheme’s central theme is the preservation of Syria’s territorial integrity along with partial autonomy for its minorities, especially the Kurds. Assad will remain in office for an interim period, whose length will be up for negotiation between the US and Russia. It will end with elections to the presidency and parliament, after which Assad will step down. It is surmised in Washington that the main bone of contention will be Russia’s insistence on drawing Assad’s rule out for as long as possible, while the Americans will seek to cut it short. However, US administration circles are confident about the chances of bridging this gap.
Israel was not invited to take part in this round-table, but made its position clear to Washington in direct communications between US and Israeli government and security officials. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu laid out Israel’s stance in a phone call to Vladimir Putin on Jan. 1. They decided to meet soon.
Vice President Mike Pence’s forthcoming visit to Israel on Jan. 22 will also serve for the transmission of messages from Jerusalem to Washington on the Syrian question.
The reported Israeli air and ground strikes against Syria Monday night were meant as a reminder to both Washington and Moscow that Israel is closely following their moves on Syria and will make sure that its views and security needs are taken fully into account. They were also a warning to Tehran against trying to use the transition period for deepening its military presence in Syria.