The War Next Door: the Syrian Policy of Israel since 2011

By Matthieu Cimino
Submitted to Session P4637 (The Syrian Civil War, Refugees, & Regional Responses, 2016 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
Israel; Syria;
19th-21st Centuries; Arab-Israeli Conflict; Conflict Resolution; Foreign Relations; Israel Studies; Middle East/Near East Studies; Public Policy; Security Studies;
LCD Projector without Audio;
In 2011, a large segment of Syrian society participated in demonstrations against the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Despite the initial peaceful character of the uprising, the opposition armed itself (Majed, 2014) to respond to the terrible repression led by Damascus. A year later, the country was engaged in a still ongoing, wide-ranging sectarian war, opposing foreign salafi-jihadist militias and Lebanese, Iraqi, and Iranian Shia militants.

Today, while all attention is focused on the Islamic State/Dâ’ish (and therefore on northern Syria), on the Kurdish and Christian minorities, and on a global Shia-Sunni confrontation, the study of Israel and its Syrian policy seems to have been sidelined by the academic community. Alternatively presented as "neutral" (by itself) or as "directly supporting Salafist militias" (by the Syrian regime and its allies), Israel’s Syrian policy is actually far more complex. Thus, understanding its position, role, and objectives would provide another key for reading the dynamics of the Syrian conflict.

This communication, based on a 6-month field research in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Amman, aims to analyze Israel’s Syria policy since the beginning of the civil war (2011) and to provide new historical perspective on the formation and evolution of this specific foreign policy. At the theoretical level, this project is based on the foreign policy analysis (FPA) theory, at the crossroads of international relations and the sociology of public action.

Using a multiscale approach, we will (a) understand the complexity and diversity of actors competing in the decision-making process that led to defining the Syrian—and, by extension, Lebanese—policy of Israel; (b) identify the variables (including economic and cultural) that influence decision-making processes behind the definition of its policy; and (c) understand the restructuring of the state and the various actors involved in the process (Planning and Policy Directorate, Aman, the Military Intelligence Directorate (MID), MFA, intelligence services, etc.). Breaking with conventional wisdom, this paper will explain why and how Israel’s “no-policy” towards the Syrian conflict was actually ill defined but also strongly contested from the start.