The Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) published a research article on Tuesday, arguing that precisely now as Russia gets militarily involved in Syria, Israel should take action to take down President Bashar al-Assad.
The article was authored by researcher Carmit Valensi and INSS director Maj. Gen. (ret.) Amos Yadlin, former head of Military Intelligence.
In it, the authors noted that Israel's most dangerous threats from Syria are Iran and its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah, who like Russia are working to prop up Assad. They noted that Assad's regime and Islamic State (ISIS) are "less urgent" threats, although "Assad is what enables the growing presence of Iran and Hezbollah in Syria, and toppling him is a key to weakening the radical axis in the nation."
They then discussed why Russia may have decided to rapidly increase its military involvement in Syria with airstrikes mostly targeting anti-Assad rebels and not ISIS.
"The rationale of the Russian move, its strategic objective, scope, and duration are not yet sufficiently clear, but it is obvious that the move places Israel in a new reality that requires reconsideration of the ways to confront the challenge and the opportunities brought on by the new reality."
The researchers noted that "Moscow does not necessarily intend to participate in ground warfare in Syria. In recent days, 3,000 additional Iranian soldiers have crossed into Syria to that end. They are massing in the staging areas of Syria under the command of Qassam Suleimani, the commander of the al-Quds Revolutionary Guards, where they are joining Hizbollah and Syrian army fighters. This development may forecast coming events, part of the alliance-in-the-making among Russia, Iran, and Syria."
"Change Israel's role"
In response to the changing reality on the ground, they called on Israel to change its role vis-a-vis the internecine conflict.
"Since the start of the civil war in Syria, Israel has avoided involvement and has only taken action to keep advanced arms from falling into Hizbollah hands."
According to the analysis, ISIS "does not represent a direct military strategic threat at this time" as far as Israel is concerned. "By contrast, Hizbollah – armed with advanced operational capabilities and long range missiles and rockets that reach the entirety of Israel – can be strengthened by the Russian move, should Russian arms trickle into its arsenals or be intentionally supplied to the organization."
They detailed how an axis of Iran, Assad, Hezbollah and Russia is being formed, with the Assad regime playing a key role in allowing Iran to supply Hezbollah, and promoting Iran's "agenda vis-à-vis the Sunni Arab world and Israel, and out of concern that Assad’s ouster will dramatically damage the Shiite axis, particularly Hizbollah."
If Assad remains in control, "Israel will find itself in an inferior strategic position because Russia’s involvement is liable to provide a seal of approval for Iranian activity in Syria in years to come, as well as for Hizbollah forces armed with the best of Russia’s weapons on Syrian soil."
Iran will then be able to create a larger military presence on Israel's border, but "despite this, Israel has so far avoided making a move that could have contributed to the effort to topple Assad and thus undermine Iran and Hizbollah’s presence in Syria."
There are two opportunities now open to Israel thanks to Russia's move, according to the analysts.
"One lies in strengthening an alliance with the Sunni nations in the region, first and foremost Saudi Arabia and Turkey, under the leadership of the United States," they wrote.
"Two, in case of failure in moving the 'Western' coalition into concurrent action against Assad and ISIS, Israel should strive to realize...an Assad-free Syria – as an arrangement reached in partnership with Russia."
"In any case, Israel must gear up for active efforts to topple Assad, based on the understanding that beyond the moral imperative, Assad’s ouster will lead to a strategic loss for Iran and Hizbollah in the bleeding Syrian state."