By Ilan Berman, The Hill—
For Israel, a few weeks can make a world of difference. As recently as this past Fall, officials in Jerusalem were waxing optimistic over the new, more favorable regional environment confronting the Jewish state, and about America’s reinvigorated approach to the Mideast under President Trump. But now, the Administration’s unexpected December decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria has left Israeli policymakers on edge, and for good reason.
Since its start nearly eight years ago, the Syrian civil war has been watched closely from Jerusalem. On the whole, however, Israeli officials have opted to maintain a laissez faire attitude toward the conflict on their northern border — lest Israeli involvement alter the struggle between the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his assorted opponents. (A notable exception, and one that has gone largely unreported, have been Israel’s consistent efforts to alleviate the war’s humanitarian suffering, including by providing medical assistance to Syrian civilians and fighters alike, both in southern Syria and in medical facilities on Israeli soil.)
Nevertheless, over the past two years, the situation in Syria has become increasingly inhospitable for Israeli interests. Most worryingly, Iran’s involvement in support of the Assad regime has allowed the Islamic Republic to entrench itself deeply on Syrian soil, in strategic as well as in political and economic terms. Israel has responded by carrying out numerous military operations (many of them unreported) against Iranian interests and assets in southern Syria, with the goal of establishing a level of “minimal deterrence” against Tehran. Continue Reading on The Hill….