Aug 24, 2022 - World

Scoop: U.K. envoy praises Israeli airstrike campaign in Syria

An image grab shows on November 20, 2019 smoke and fire billowing during a reported Israeli air strike on the outskirts of Damascus

Smoke and fire during an Israeli airstrike outside Damascus in 2019. Photo: AFP via Getty Images

The British special envoy for Syria told Israeli officials during a visit to Jerusalem several weeks ago that the Israeli airstrike campaign against Iranian military targets is "probably the only thing that works in Syria," Israeli Foreign Ministry officials briefed on the meetings told Axios.

The big picture: The Israeli air force in recent years conducted hundreds of airstrikes in Syria against targets mostly connected to Iran and Hezbollah.

  • Israel said the goal of the campaign was to delay and discourage Iran’s military entrenchment efforts in Syria and prevent the transfer of sophisticated weapon systems like precision rockets from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Behind the scenes: In private discussions in Jerusalem in June, U.K. envoy Jonathan Hargreaves praised the Israeli airstrike campaign in Syria and said the U.K. and other Western countries are basing some of their policies on its results, the Israeli officials said.

  • Hargreaves said that because the political process in Syria is deadlocked, Western countries could switch the focus of their diplomatic efforts to the need to end the Iranian presence there, per the Israeli officials.

A senior British diplomat told Axios that the embassy officials who attended the meeting do not remember Hargreaves praising the airstrikes.

State of play: In the meeting, the U.K. envoy stressed that the West has realized that outside pressure won’t lead to regime change in Syria. He added that instead of continuing their calls for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, they have decided to focus on trying to change the regime’s behavior, the Israeli officials said.

  • Hargreaves said providing a forum for the opposition to have political dialogue with the regime is one of the key reasons why the political process is still important. He added that he is doubtful the “step by step” approach UN envoy special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen has endorsed is effective.
  • According to the Israeli officials, Hargreaves said the U.K. has been trying to discourage Arab countries from normalizing relations with the Assad regime and stressed the Jordanians were already "burned” when their engagement with the Syrian government caused friction with the Biden administration and didn’t bear any fruit.
  • The British envoy also said that the smuggling of Captagon drugs from Syria has become the most pressing security threat for Jordan and proposed British-Israeli cooperation to disrupt this drug smuggling activity that finances the Assad regime, according to the Israeli officials.
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