President Bashar Assad’s Strategic Stance: Walking a Tightrope

Since the onset of the conflict, Syrian President Bashar Assad has notably maintained a neutral stance, refraining from direct action against Israel despite his alignment with the Iran-led axis, and despite Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) operations within Syrian territory. Speculation abounds regarding Assad's reluctance to confront Israel directly, with many attributing it to a fear of Israeli retaliation. Assad's primary concern appears to be the preservation of his regime and the reconstruction of war-torn Syria.

Even in the wake of significant events, such as the assassination of Iranian General Hassan Mahdavi, commander of the “Quds” force in Syria and Lebanon, Assad has chosen to remain silent, despite allegations of Israeli involvement.

Assad’s posture of neutrality has persisted, even amidst developments such as the erosion of Hamas’s military capabilities in the Gaza Strip by the IDF.

The betrayal of Assad by Hamas during the Syrian civil war, coupled with their subsequent relocation of headquarters to Qatar, has likely contributed to Assad’s reluctance to engage with the organization.

Efforts at reconciliation between Hamas and the Syrian regime have faltered, with Assad harboring resentment towards the group, viewing them as an offshoot of the “Muslim Brotherhood,” a longstanding adversary of his regime.

According to a Western diplomat speaking to the LAPRESSE website on April 26, Assad has received explicit warnings from Israel regarding the consequences of Syrian aggression against them, including the potential destruction of his regime.

Several factors may explain Assad’s cautious approach:

  1. He takes Israeli warnings seriously, prioritizing the stability of his regime over involvement in conflicts with Israel, particularly considering the support Iran provides to Hamas.
  2. With Russia deeply engaged in the conflict in Ukraine, Assad may have been cautioned by Moscow to avoid escalating tensions with Israel, as Russia seeks to maintain its military and economic interests in Syria.
  3. Assad may anticipate financial support from Gulf countries, particularly the United Arab Emirates, as compensation for his restraint during the conflict.

Gulf nations opposed to Iran may see Assad as a potential ally in their efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region.

Despite being part of the Iran-led “axis of evil,” Assad has refrained from direct confrontation with Israel, with only a limited number of rocket launches reported from Syrian territory.

Following the assassination of General Hassan Mahdavi, Iran withdrew many of its military advisers from Syria, replaced mainly by operatives of Hezbollah and Iraqi militias loyal to Iran.

Though Syria remains aligned with Iran, Assad has refrained from overtly antagonizing Israel in the media, a departure from past rhetoric.

However, his neutrality has drawn criticism within the Arab world, with many deriding his earlier proclamations of resistance to Israel as hollow, suggesting Assad has become a puppet of Iran.

Yoni Ben Menachem Senior Middle East Analyst

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem is a Middle East senior analyst ,a journalist and
the former CEO of the Israel Broadcasting Authority(IBA). He has
decades of experience in written and video journalism. Ben
Menachem’s path in the media world began as a producer for
Japanese television in the Middle East. After that, he held many key
positions in the media The Israeli: CEO of the Israel Broadcasting
Authority, director of “Kol Israel” Radio, reporter on West Bank and
Gaza Strip affairs, political reporter and commentator, commentator
on Middle East affairs and editor-in-chief and presenter of the
program “Middle East Magazine”. 

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