by Prof. Eyal Zisser
It is doubtful that Assad could have survived this long without the financial aid Iran has afforded Syria, but the assistance lent to him by Hezbollah has also been crucial to his ability to maintain his grip on the regime.
The Syrian revolution will soon mark its fourth anniversary. The uprising, which turned into a bloody civil war, has all but obliterated the country, which is still under President Bashar Assad's rule.
Syria proper has been reduced to a narrow, north-bound strip stretching from Damascus through Aleppo, to the Alawite provinces along the coast; what was once eastern Syria is now an Islamic caliphate controlled by the Islamic State group, and the rest of Syria is controlled by various rebel groups.
There is little left of Syria as we knew it, with the exception of one thing -- the strategic alliance between Damascus, Tehran and Hezbollah, which has only grown stronger over the past few years. The deeper Assad has become embroiled in the quagmire of civil war, the more dependent he has become on his Iranian ally and its proxy, Hezbollah.
It is doubtful that Assad could have survived this long without the financial aid Iran has afforded Syria, but the assistance lent to him by Hezbollah has also been crucial to his ability to maintain his grip on the regime. The thousands of Hezbollah fighters sent to battle the rebels may not have been able to defeat them, but it is Hezbollah's hundreds of wounded and dead that have been keeping Assad in power.
Iran and Hezbollah have made it their mission to save Assad, because Syria is pivotal to the Shiite axis they seek to install between Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. Syria is Iran's gateway to the Mediterranean, as well as a crucial supply route through which Iran continues to arm Hezbollah with tens of thousands of missiles.
Assad, for his part, feels obligated to do his Shiite allies' bidding. After all, for years emissaries from Washington and Jerusalem whispered in his ear that he should sever his ties with the axis of evil, strike a peace deal with Israel and restore diplomatic relations with the U.S., but at the moment of truth, the U.S. became his adversary while Iran rallied to his side.
Syria's alliance with Iran and Hezbollah is so strong that Assad has not thought twice before giving his allies what little he has left, including his Russian-made weapons. These weapons are of no use in his war against the rebels, but for Hezbollah -- as admitted by Israel -- these are game-changing arms, which are likely to give it a significant advantage in any future conflict with Israel. Hezbollah, for its part, has thrown its full force behind Assad, while still diligently working to bolster its abilities versus Israel; as if Syria is not ravaged by civil war, and as if it has not lost hundreds of operatives in the fighting.
Any future conflict between Israel and Hezbollah will be based -- much like any conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip -- on missile arsenals and terrorist cells that would most likely use tunnels to clash with security forces and attack Israeli civilians. This is why Hezbollah is adamant to remain war-ready when it comes to Israel, despite the war in Syria.
Hezbollah is also adamant on continuing to generate its own deterrence, which has so far caused Israel to be wary of mounting an airstrike in Lebanon, over concerns of the Shiite terrorist group's reaction. According to foreign media reports, Israel has opted instead to take advantage of Assad's weaknesses and stage strikes on Syrian soil, assuming that Assad would, as usual, prefer to contain the situation rather than respond.
With all due respect to civil wars, Israel still remains a top priority for its enemies.
Prof. Eyal Zisser
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