Israel has long been wary of Iran’s power projection in the Levant, particularly in Syria. Ties between Tehran and Damascus have been close since the 1979 revolution, but the relationship deepened after Syria’s civil war erupted in 2011. With the Assad regime’s survival at stake, Tehran doubled down on its support, providing critical military assistance—fighters and strategists—and economic aid estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Syria and Iran now have a partnership with existential stakes—for the Assad regime’s longevity and Iran’s enduring position in Syria, the most strategic property in the Levant. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian looks at Iran and Israel’s goals and concerns in Syria and the potential of their shadow war spilling over into a regional conflagration.
This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) on 14 April 2018.
Russia has mounted its anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) footprint in the Levant and also boosted the Syrian Arab Air Defense Force’s capabilities. Syrian skies now remain a heavily contested combat airspace and a dangerous flashpoint. Moreover, there is another grave threat to monitor at low altitudes. Throughout the civil war, various non-state armed groups have acquired advanced man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS), which pose a menacing challenge not only to the deployed forces, but also to commercial aviation around the world. In the face of these threats, NATO needs to draw key lessons-learned from the contemporary Russian operational art, and more importantly, to develop a new understanding in order to grasp the emerging reality in Syria. Simply put, control of the Syrian airspace is becoming an extremely crucial issue, and it will be a determining factor for the war-torn country’s future status quo.
Nearly three years on from the Islamic State’s high water mark in the summer of 2015, there are several lessons that the United States and its allies can discern from the terrorist group’s meteoric rise to control large parts of Iraq and Syria to the loss of its physical caliphate late last year. The steady decline in ISIL’s fortunes is striking given the palpable fear its rise in the summer of 2014 sparked across Washington, when a common question circulating within the policy community was whether Baghdad itself might fall. Many of these takeaways will be relevant to U.S. policymakers as they attempt to prevent the group from reconstituting itself in the coming months.
This graphic traces both the numbers of foreign fighters who traveled to Syria and Iraq from North African countries, as well as those who have returned to their country of origin or residence since 2011. To find out more about North Africa’s foreign fighters, see Lisa Watanabe’s recent addition to our CSS Analyses in Security Policy series here. For more graphics on peace and conflict, see the CSS’ collection of graphs and charts on the subject here.