The Syrian army is a threat that has ceased to exist for the coming decade and the regime is in “the most grave predicament” since the outbreak of war in March 2011, a senior Israeli army officer said Wednesday in a briefing.
Hezbollah, the Assad regime’s ally, has lost 700 men since the start of the fighting and 100 over the past two weeks alone, he said. The officer characterized Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who has delivered four saber-rattling speeches over the past eight days, as suffering from “no small amount of embarrassment” in Lebanon, and said that Israel has seen the transfer of Hezbollah troops from the south – the border with Israel – to Syria.
“That points to their distress,” he stated.
The Shiite organization, the strongest military force in Lebanon, began physically backing the flailing Bashar Assad regime in 2012. Today it has fighters in Iraq, advisers in Yemen, and 6,000-8,000 combatants in Syria. “The last thing they want is to open a front with us,” the officer said.
Iran, which has long run the military operations of the Shiite axis in Syria, has pledged its undying support to the war effort. “The Iranian nation and government will remain at the side of the Syrian nation and government until the end of the road,” state news agency IRNA quoted Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as saying on Tuesday, according to a Reuters report.
The officer interpreted Iran’s devotion to Syria as more complex. He said that one can “categorically say” that there is a Shiite-Iranian-Hezbollah hegemony in west Syria and that Iranian involvement, in terms of operational control, money and materiel, has increased considerably. On the other hand, there are no Iranian troops being deployed on the front lines in Syria. Tehran understands that, as opposed to in Iraq or Lebanon, there are few gains to be made in Syria, he said, and therefore the majority of the fighting force is Hezbollah. “Why should they shed blood for Hezbollah?” he said.
The Golan Heights, on the Syrian side of the border, is primarily in rebel hands. The officer described the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra as sitting “on the fence” and said that the radical Sunni group has positions “100 yards” from Israel’s border. The Free Syrian Army, he said, “is spread out.”
Nonetheless, the Deputy Chief of the IDF General Staff, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, earlier this week described Israel’s strategic position in the north, in light of Hezbollah’s entanglement and the demise of the Syrian army, as perhaps “better than ever.”
In general, the senior officer said Wednesday, the threat of conventional war has declined alongside the threat of non-conventional weapons. Iran, if it signs a deal at the end of the month, will be subjected to “invasive inspections,” and a roll-back in its nuclear program, meaning that “in the short term of years, it” – Iran’s non-conventional capacity – “is a threat in decline.”
Finally, the officer called the Palestinian arena the “most sensitive” in 2015. One needn’t have “a very developed sense of imagination” in order to conjure what would happen if the security cooperation were to be stopped, he said. The friction would increase and the ability to operate in the field to thwart terror would decrease, he said.
Instead, he indicated that the army has been pushing to improve the “civilian reality” in the West Bank, increasing work permits, ensuring that the tax money is transferred to the Palestinian Authority, and making sure that the new city of Rawabi, which lacked a water line and an access road, is connected to water and is in the process of gaining access to a road. “Whoever goes around there [now],” he said, “can see the beginning of hope.”