Since the Yom Kippur War of 1973, one of the strongest arguments some Israelis
make against withdrawing from the Golan Heights and making peace with Syria is
basically, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Of all of Israel’s borders
including, the so-called peaceful ones with Jordan and Egypt, the border with
Syria has always been the quietest. Yes, Israel fought a major war there in
1973, but since then, the border has been peaceful, with only a rare terror or
As Israel watches the ongoing demonstrations in
Syria against President Bashar Assad, its greatest concern for the moment is the
uncertainty that change in Syria would bring to the region. Israel has gotten
used to Assad and he is almost predictable.
A new regime, led by a new
actor, would likely be unpredictable and when considering the large arsenal of
long-range Scud missiles Syria has stockpiled over the years and the
accompanying chemical warheads, Israel needs to be considered.
weeks, since the ongoing upheaval began in the Middle East, starting with
Tunisia and Egypt and carrying on to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and now Syria, Israel
has found itself in a new reality in which uncertainty prevails. Who will take
over in Egypt as the new president and what will happen to the peace treaty?
What will happen in Bahrain, and will Iran continue to solidify its grip over
the Gulf states? With regards to Syria, the Israeli defense establishment cannot
say that the writing was not on the wall.
It is no secret that Syria is
in an economic crisis, lacking basic resources such as water, oil and produce.
Assad has for years rejected opportunities to do business with the West –
particularly Europe – and with runaway inflation and high unemployment he is now
paying the price.
But when Israel looks at Syria it also sees the
possible development of a new enemy, far more radical and extreme than the Assad
they are familiar with. While not as strong and large as the Egyptian military,
the Syrian military has obtained some advanced capabilities which, if the
country falls apart, could fall into terrorist hands or be used by the country
Just in recent years, Syria announced a decision to
rebuild its aging air force and to procure new Russian MiG fighter jets. It has
some of the most advanced surface-to-air missile systems and also has a
significant number, perhaps hundreds, of Scud missiles.
In the meantime,
Israeli intelligence services are cautious in trying to predict how the riots in
Syria will end and whether Assad will be prepared to cede power as easily as
Hosni Mubarak did in Egypt.