Israel's Interests and Options in Syria
RAND National Defense Research Institute Santa Monica United States
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At the end of an extended crisis-simulation game examining Middle East regional security challenges, which RAND Corporation researchers developed and managed, participants noted that neither the player teams nor the control team conceived of a significant role for Israel in the crisis. The chaos along Israels borders-centered in Syria but affecting Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and southern Turkey-had not significantly affected Israel to date, but its principal regional adversaries, Iran and Hezbollah, have been among the primary drivers of the conflict in the Levant. Participants believed that any effort Israel makes to insert itself into the conflict could have a significant impact on its direction conversely, they believed that an Israeli unwillingness to get involved could signal a reticence to challenge Iran or Russia which had recently deployed troops to Syria unless these countries were to pose critical threats to Israels interests. Participants in the simulation concluded that an assessment of Israels interests, objectives, and policy options in the Syrian conflict and its main actors would be of interest. Thisperspective provides that assessment. The idea for this perspective emerged from a weeks-long crisis simulation involving dozens of Middle East analysts from government agencies, RAND, and outside institutions. Naming all of the participants in this event would be difficult, but their discussions, insights, and brainstorming identified the need for further research about Israels interests and objectives regarding the Syria conflict. Richard Girven of the RAND Intelligence Policy Center provided encouragement and support, and both he and Kathleen Reedy, also of RAND, offered perceptive comments on an early draft. David Johnson of RAND and Brian Katulis of the Center for American Progress, who served as peer reviewers, offered valuable insights that dramaticallyimproved the papers arguments and enhanced its usefulness for analysts and policymakers.