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Prelims Capsule

International Relations

Israel vs Syria – Why the Middle East is constantly in a war like situation?

Israel vs Syria – Why the Middle East is constantly in a war like situation?


  • GS 2 || International Relations || India & Rest of the World || West Asia

Why in the news?

Ten years since the outbreak of the crisis in Syria, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad seems to have won the civil war.


  • Syrian-Israel conflict- Syria doesn’t recognize Israel and they don’t have diplomatic relations between them. They always have conflict between them which erupted when Syria signed an agreement with Jordan on 5th June 1967. This agreement was seen by Israel as a move against him.
  • If in 2015, before the Russian intervention, Mr. Assad’s area of influence had shrunken to the largely Alawite-populated region stretching from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast,
  • His troops now control most of Syria — except Idlib and the Kurdish territories.

  • The Kurds enjoy autonomy in the border region with Turkey, but have bought a delicate peace with Damascus.
  • In effect, Idlib, controlled by jihadists and rebels, and some towns on the border that are held by pro-Turkey militias, are the only parts of the country that lie outside the sovereignty of the Syrian government.

Syria and Israel – regional tension:

  • There was regional tension between Syria and Israel due to which they didn’t have diplomatic relations between them.
  • Egypt which was the leader of Arab countries too didn’t recognize Israel as a separate state and gathered Arab forces of Middle East around himself.
  • The growing Pan-Arabism was seen as a threat to existence by Israel so he conducted air strikes on Egypt airbases in 1967.
  • In retaliation of which Egypt-Syria and Jordan joined the hand but even together they could not defeat Israel.
  • It was perhaps because of the financial and military support that was provided by the US. One immediate reason for the war was the closing of strait of Tiran by Egypt as on this sea-trade of Israel was depended heavily.

Causes of war:

  • Syrian-Israel conflict– Syria doesn’t recognize Israel and they don’t have diplomatic relations between them. They always have conflict between them which erupted when Syria signed an agreement with Jordan on 5th June 1967. This agreement was seen by Israel as a move against him.
  • Arab-Israel conflict – Israel is Jew dominated region which has always opposed Arab domination in the region. It is this conflict which made Jordan, Syria and Egypt to collectively fight against Israel. Growing Pan-Arabism was seen as a threat by Israel for its existence.
  • US interests in West Asia- US had a sizeable and influential Jews population which had a predominant western culture and Russian influence in the region was growing. This made US to intervene from the side of Israel which Israel saw as an assurance of victory in the war.

Geopolitical Contest:

  • Assad’s victory, however, seems to have locked Syria in a prolonged geopolitical contest.
  • The Syrian army turned around the war with help from Russia, Iran and several Iran-backed Shia militias, including the Lebanese Hezbollah.
  • They are all still in Syria, which shares a border with Israel. This means the civil war has intensified the Iran-Israel conflict.

What Israel did after Syrian crisis?

  • When the Syrian crisis unfolded in 2011-12, Israel took a ‘wait and watch’ approach, primarily because it preferred a stable regime in Damascus to the post-revolutionary chaos —Despite the absence of a formal peace treaty, the Israeli-Syrian border has been largely uneventful since the 1970s.
  • But when Iran deployed militias and military assets in Syria in defence of Mr. Assad, it changed Israel’s calculus

  • Across Israel’s northern border, the Hezbollah has already established a formidable presence.
  • Both Israel’s 1982-2000 occupation of southern Lebanon and the 2006 war on Lebanon were resisted by Hezbollah.
  • Israel would not like to have more Iran-backed Shia militias across the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War and which has been the de facto 44 border

Changing Tactics:

  • So, Israel changed its tactics. It first started helping anti Assad rebels in the Golan region by reportedly providing cash and medical aid.
  • The plan was to create a buffer between the Golan Heights and the rest of Syria so that the pro-Iran militias could be stopped from coming face-to-face with Israeli troops between the two countries ever since.
  • Later, after the tides turned in the civil war and Iran deepened its presence in Syria, Israel started bombing Iranian positions inside Syria.
  • Since September 2015, the Syrian air space has practically been controlled by the Russians.
  • But Russia looked away when Israel stepped up its bombings and Israel has been careful not to hit Russian positions in the overcrowded Syrian battlefield.

3 goals of Israel in Syria:

  • Disrupt Iranian supplies for Hezbollah & other Shia militias;
  • Stop the militias advancing towards the de facto border;
  • By continuously targeting them, weaken Iran’s presence in Syria

Attacks on Syria:

  • In the last three years, Israel has carried out dozens of aerial attacks in Syria.
  • In retaliation, Syria has often fired anti-aircraft missiles.In February 2018, Syria shot down an Israeli war plane.
  • An anti-aircraft surface-to-air missile, purportedly fired by the Syrian army, landed near Israel’s secretive nuclear facility in Dimona.
  • In response, Israel carried out a round of bombing in Syria

Support from Iran:

  • For the Syrian government, support from Iran was a lifeline.
  • While Russia provided air power in the civil war, Iran supplied ground troops.
  • Assad did nothing to prevent the sprawling Iranian influence in his country despite Israeli attacks.
  • And Iran’s response to Israeli attacks has been only to deepen its footprints.
  • As a result, Syria has emerged as a new theatre in the Israel-Iran geopolitical contest in West Asia, which could outlive the Syrian civil war.
  • Already, the conflict has spilled from Syria into the Mediterranean and Red Sea waters where both sides target each other’s ships.

How does the future look?

  • Israel has stepped up its bombing campaign in Syria this month, warning Iran of dire consequences if it continues.
  • However, beyond rhetoric, Israel’s ability to form reality in Syria is minimal, as Iran’s clout has grown significantly over the course of the war.
  • Hezbollah has also grown stronger, and it now seems that mere areal rides would not be enough to defeat them at a time when full-scale action is not a choice.
  • As the regime gathers momentum, it will turn its attention to the Israeli-backed rebels in the south, making things more complicated for Tel Aviv.

Mains oriented question:

Israel got itself involved in the Syrian war in order to contain increasing Iranian influence in Syria. Explain how and why?