On the 25th of December, Israeli warplanes struck Damascus during Christmas celebrations allegedly targeting Hezbollah senior figures and strongholds in the city. It has been reported that Syrian government air defences destroyed 14 of the 16 missiles fired by the Israeli Air Force during the strikes.
The aggressive strikes come as US president Trump has announced that his administration will pull troops out of Syria. The decision comes as Trump has harked back to his anti interventionist campaign rhetoric as part of his “America First” plans. The resolution has already led to defence secretary James Mattis’ resignation as United States foreign policy has seen a seemingly remarkable change of pace compared to the last 50 years of hawkish interventionist foreign policy.
With the US withdrawal also comes a loss of support for the Kurdish Peoples Protection Units (YPG) whom US forces have been assisting against the so-called Islamic State. It has thus also led to the emboldening of Erdogan’s Turkey whose military have long since wished to displace and attack the Syrian Kurds whom they see as connected to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), a group who have participated in a decades long guerrilla conflict against the Turkish government.
The bombing of Damascus can be seen as a play by Israel to take a leading role in Syrian civil war as the US pulls out. The hawkish display of power is no surprise to anyone who knows Israels interventionist military history which includes the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The conflict saw Israel topple leftist pro Palestinian forces and attempt to remove Syrian influence from Lebanon. It also helped lead to the creation of Hezbollah, the very same force Israel now seeks to combat in Syria.
Hezbollah have taken a large role in the war on the side of the Assad government. Its a relationship that goes back to the Lebanese civil war where Hezbollah and Baathist backed militias fought the Israeli backed rightist Phalange for control of the nation. Hezbollah is a commanding military presence, as shown during its strategic victory against the IDF in the 2006 Lebanon war. Its intervention on behalf of Assad cannot be emphasised enough with regards to the continued survival of the Syrian Arab Socialist Baath Party. It has recently played a leading role against rebel forces near the occupied Golan Heights during the Beit Jinn offensive and spearheaded the capture of Abu Kamal from the so-called Islamic State.
The withdrawal of the US from the region and the display of Hezbollah military prowess had no doubt worried Israel. The events reminisce in the happenings of the Lebanese civil war where America similarly withdrew for the conflict, after a suicide bombing killed 241 US troops, and Hezbollah gained a decisive edge in the closing chapters of the 15 year war. Now, Hezbollah has yet again proven itself decisive as the Assad government asserts itself day after day.
Israel meanwhile has been in somewhat of a crisis over the last few months. Its reputation has once again been tainted after a series of shootings of Palestinians during Gaza border protests earlier this year. A corruption scandal has emerged against Israel’s long running rightist PM Benjamin Netanyahu and a tactical victory by Gazan armed factions last month has directly led to the collapse of the Likud led right wing governing coalition. With fresh elections around the corner, the Netanyahu administration has no doubt attempted to claw back some legitimacy with these recent strikes on the Syrian capital.
The situation in Syria remains unstable. With the US withdrawal, a Turkish invasion against YPG militants in the north now looms and a deal seems to be on the horizon between Kurdish and Baathist forces. A more determined Israeli intervention into the conflict will unquestionably have untold consequences for the future of the region.