Recent developments in the war between the Syrian regime and rebel forces show that the relative comfort zone that Israel has long enjoyed along its northern border is narrowing. The recent pummeling of the notorious Islamic State group makes an escalation in hostilities between Israel and the forces of President Bashar Assad along with his staunch ally, the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group, increasingly likely.
The terrible civil war ravaging Syria has for several years forced Hezbollah, deployed to the battlefield on Assad’s behalf, to limit the resources and energy it expends on confronting Israel. Some 2,000 Hezbollah fighters have been killed and 6,000 injured fighting in Syria — about a third of the organization’s fighting force. The same has been true for Syria’s standing army, which looked exhausted, almost defeated, until Russia swooped in to turn the tide.
In recent weeks, the cumulative effect of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s efforts has helped swing the pendulum in favor of Assad, Hezbollah, and other Shiite militias active in the arena on behalf of Iran. The battle against the Islamic State group in Mosul, Iraq, is drawing to a close, and it is clear that next in line to fall will be Raqqa, the group’s stronghold in Syria.
In other fronts, too, the Syrian army is scoring major victories, including in the Deir Ezzor region in the country’s northeast, where Assad’s forces, aided by Shiite militiamen, have broken through to the area of Abu Kamal, on the Iraqi border. It is a region where Kurdish and other forces that receive US support have been very active. Hence the recent rise in friction between the US army and Syrian forces that led to the downing of a Syrian jet last week.