Syria is not Libya or Egypt, Prof. Itamar Rabinovich said on Sunday at a Tel Aviv University conference.

The former president of the university and a past ambassador to the US was Israel’s chief negotiator with Syria from 1992 to 1995.

He noted that Syria is surrounded by many important regional players such as Israel, Iraq and Turkey, but that it has very little oil. In addition, he said, Libya is close to Europe, which was worried about the influx of illegal immigrants entering it by sea, so it had a strong motive to intervene.

Rabinovich also said that Syria is not Egypt and put Syria in historical context, saying that Egypt is a strong country while Syria has been generally a weak one.

Syria is like the former Republic of Yugoslavia, which held together various ethnic groups using the power of its dictatorship.

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The conference at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies was titled “Syria: A nonstop revolution” and was chaired by Prof. Uzi Rabi.

In response to a question by The Jerusalem Post, asking what the policy of the US should be in Syria, Rabinovich said, “Sneakers on the ground, not boots on the ground.” He explained this by saying US President Barack Obama is not interested in a full-scale military operation and “his new defense secretary is not interested” in one either.

He said that by sneakers, he meant special forces combined with supporting those in the opposition that most closely reflect US values, and not the Islamists.

Prof. Eyal Zisser said that Syria is becoming the center for jihadists, taking the place of Afghanistan and Iraq. President Bashar Assad has surprised many by his resilience and ability to survive two years of rebellion, he said.

“There is no ‘opposition’ – it is media-made and it has no one leader or system that represents it,” he said, adding that there are many local uprisings coming from the periphery and there is chaos in places where the government has lost control.

The opposition is functioning like a cash machine and as long as the money keeps coming they can continue, Zisser added.

In regards to a possible Alawite mini-state, he thinks this is unrealistic as, unlike Hezbollah, the idea does not have ideological backing from Iran.

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