Syrian anti-Assad protest 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Syrian armed forces’ brutal attempt to crush the popular uprising against
President Bashar Assad’s regime – which has reportedly claimed over 6,000 lives
– has evoked widespread but silent sympathy in Israel.
However, there has
been no public discussion of emergency medical aid or any other form of
humanitarian assistance, and rightly so.
Any step that might imply
support for either side in the yearlong conflict could be misconstrued as
evidence of active involvement.
If Israel were to help the Free Syrian
Army or its civilian supporters in the hope that they might opt for peace if
they were to overthrow the Damascus regime, Syrian propagandists could charge
that the Israelis were behind the uprising.
On the other hand, if Israel
were to back Assad because he has abided by the cease-fire agreement instituted
under the aegis of the UN after the Six Day War 44 years ago, his political
longevity might be rendered that much shorter.
All that the Israelis can
do at this stage is to keep abreast of developments across their northeastern
border. This indeed is being done day in and day out in the local press and on
TV and radio.
The biggest danger is that Assad could find a pretext for a
military assault against Israel, in a desperate attempt to shift his rebellious
public’s attention away from its criticism of his leadership to the historical
enmity against the Jewish state.
If Assad were overthrown or fled Syria
with his immediate family there are several political scenarios that could come
First, this could be followed by a nationwide purge of Assad’s
supporters, especially those who belong to his minority Alawite Islamic sect.
That prospect stiffens the resistance to the political opposition. The pro-Assad
establishment and the component remnants of the once-pervasive Ba’ath party also
have a vested interest in preserving the regime.
Iran is another factor
in Assad’s favor. The Islamic Republic does want to lose its closest Middle
Eastern ally. Assad’s downfall might have dangerous repercussions inside Iran
and therefore could undermine the existence of the Teheran
Russia’s extensive military support of Syria and its political
influence over its leadership also generate backing for Assad in the
international arena. His removal and a potential Syrian alliance with France and
the US would deprive Moscow of its last stronghold in the Arab
Assad’s fall also would be a major setback to such militant
Islamic organizations as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Gaza Strip’s Hamas and
other extremist Palestinian groups. This is because Syria has been a major
conduit for Iran’s arms shipments to its Lebanese allies. Such a change would
end the use of Damascus as the the headquarters of Hamas and the Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine.
Hezbollah, which has tens of thousands
of surface-to-surface missiles that were airlifted to Syria and transferred to
southern Lebanon for deployment just across Israel’s northern border, would lose
this major supply conduit.
In the meantime, there has been serious
concern that Hezbollah agents would seize much of Syria’s arsenal in the event
that Assad’s regime were to collapse. Hezbollah could go on to provoke a new
military showdown with Israel, if only to rally Israel’s foes in Syria to its
Another danger inherent in the Syrian crisis is that it might lead
to the advent of a hardline Islamic regime in Damascus. This could be prompted
by two factors: resentment by Syria’s largest Muslim sect, the Sunnis, caused by
more than four decades of submission to the Alawite minority, or the pro-
Islamic upsurge that emerged from the so-called Arab Spring. This certainly
would be a negative development from Israel’s standpoint.
In the event
that the current showdown leads to the emergence of a relatively moderate,
reformist regime in Damascus, one of the immediate results presumably would be a
diplomatic effort to recover most if not all of the strategic Golan Heights from
Israel. If such an effort were to fail, Israel not only would have to cope with
another prolonged period of enmity and the consequent danger of another war, but
would also lose a unique opportunity for regional normalization and
All of these considerations explain why Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu has refrained from public comment about the violence raging
in Syria and why he has been able to convince the members of his cabinet and
other coalition allies to keep quiet about the Syrian crisis.
would have too much to lose if ill-considered comments were to tilt Syria’s
volatile situation in the wrong direction in terms of this country’s security
Therefore, the wisest course is just to continue reporting the
tragic toll in dead and wounded, and the failure of the international community
to intervene in a concerted and honest effort to stop the bloodshed. That is as
far as Israel should go for the time being.The writer is a veteran