As Syrian dictator Bashar Assad fights to regain control over the last holdouts of rebel resistance, the seven-year-old civil war is entering a new phase that is setting Israel on a collision course with the Iranian-Syrian-Hezbollah axis.
This can be seen in the recent airstrikes in Syria reportedly conducted by Israel and — as importantly — in the increasingly brazen ways that Damascus has responded to them. The most recent example was early Wednesday morning when, according to Syrian reports, Israeli aircraft bombed a military scientific research facility outside Damascus, which is suspected of both developing chemical weapons for Assad and assisting Iran and Hezbollah in improving their missile technology.
According to a new report by the International Crisis Group, a think tank and advocacy firm, the only figure able to prevent a full-fledged, bloody conflict between Israel and the Iran-led axis is Russia, which has emerged from the Syrian civil war as the sole remaining powerbroker.
The United States is barely mentioned as having a role to play in any potential deescalation efforts, in light of both Moscow’s rising status in the region and America’s diminishing one, as it significantly scaled back its involvement in Syria over the past few years, according to Ofer Zalzberg, a Jerusalem-based analyst for the Crisis Group who helped write the report.
“Only Moscow is in a position to mediate a bolstering of the deescalation agreement. Unless it does, the rules of the Syrian game are likely to be worked out through attack and response, with risk of escalation,” according to the report.
The Crisis Group’s report, “Israel, Hezbollah and Iran: Preventing Another War in Syria,” was released on Thursday. It is the result of a year’s worth of interviews by researchers for the organization with diplomats and defense officials in Jerusalem, Tehran, Beirut, Washington, Moscow and Amman, Zalzberg told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, ahead of its publication.