For those who support Israel, perhaps the most ironclad principle of our
diplomatic posture is non-intervention in the Arab Spring.
is an active Arab attempt to drag Israel into conflict to deflect popular
internal dissent – as Bashar Assad attempted on the Golan to protest Naksa Day
in June – conventional wisdom has Israel withdrawn to the periphery.
argument, of course, is that a provoked Israeli response is just the tonic
embattled Arab despots need to deflect attention to the old Zionist monster
under the bed and stir up Iranian and leftist critiques of
Further, a desperate Assad (or even post-Mubarak Egypt) might
escalate to non-conventional weapons in a bid to retain power: the massive
Israeli retaliation would end internal uprisings.
scenarios cultivate a conservative Israeli mindset according to which the Devil
one knows is better than the Devil one doesn’t.
Far more manageable,
Israeli leaders reason, is the de facto “No War, No Peace” policy of the Assads
since Egypt left the war coalition after Camp David.
Domestic rule in
Syria is secured via a combination of Mukhabarat repression and controlled
conflict with the Israeli “bogeyman” via a Lebanese proxy.
It is hard to
challenge these precepts. Splendid isolation for an Israel itself mired in
social conflict – albeit peaceful and democratic – appears to be the correct
course of action amidst Arab implosion. At the very least, and perhaps most
cynical, Syria and Egypt are in no position to pose a strategic threat,
embroiled as they are with unclear loyalties, chains of command, and domestic
unrest. (As a concession to the Israeli Right, however, it is true that the fall
of strongmen like Mubarak can create a power vacuum where the void is filled by
This article, however, makes the improbable case that
non-intervention is a mythical option for Israel. Israel is not the
United States, where strategic choices are buffered by thousands of miles of
ocean. Israel is not Europe: while both are now within range of Iranian
missiles, Europe can still choose to disengage from Middle East politics. Israel
The improbable but correct course of action for Israel is,
instead, much like the role Turkey has adopted, albeit without sufficient
conviction. True, Israel could never send an envoy to Syria or Iran as Erdogan
does, and the open wound with the Palestinians threatens democratic Israeli
foreign policy with cries of hypocrisy. (For a far greater example of hypocrisy,
however, consider Turkey’s human-rights pronouncements in Gaza and Syria even as
Ankara bombs Kurdish rebels on its own turf and in northern Iraq).
said, Israel should not miss the opportunity offered by the convergence of moral
imperatives and strategic goals. From a pure Realist position, the prospect of
isolating Hezbollah from Iran by the removal of the Assad regime dovetails well
with the imperative to challenge the most vicious attacks on the Syrian people
by the Assad regime.
It is critical to note that most of the social media
sites that drive the Syrian Revolution are almost free of anti- Western and
anti-Israeli rhetoric. The Syrian opposition, while neither cohesive nor well
organized, is nonetheless realistic as to its objective and the nature of the
problem: Assad. The courage of the opposition is monumental – a true hunger for
In this light, there is much more Israel could do to hasten
Assad’s downfall and be on the “right side of history” without risk of regional
The most obvious measures might include a corridor for
legitimate refugees from Syria via the Golan. Israel could then offer to set up
its own camps to care for the refugees, or put these under UN auspices, or
appeal to Turkey for cooperation.
Absurd as this sounds, consider the
surprise of Israel’s adversaries and the prospective outcomes: Turkey’s rhetoric
and inaction/rejection of the Israeli offer would expose Ankara’s hypocrisy and
weaken its regional ambitions.
Quiet acceptance of an Israeli offer would
hasten Assad’s demise, and establish Turkey as a true power broker between East
As for Assad himself, the Syrian army is far too distracted,
stretched and racked with strained loyalties to challenge Israel on the Golan.
If nothing else, Israel could restore the respect and quiet loyalty of the
If a handful of the refugees are of Palestinian descent, so be
Provided security safeguards are followed to prevent terrorist
infiltration, there is no reason why Israel can’t offer safe harbor to
Palestinians under threat of death in Syria. Diplomatic fears that such a move
would amount to a precedent for the right of return are unfounded. A specific
response to prevent a bloodbath does not signal acceptance of the Palestinian
The diplomatic coup presented by the flight of
perhaps 1,000 Syrians to Israel could be tremendous. Hypocrisy? Not a
chance. Israel affords itself a unique opportunity to show the world that a
refugee is one in clear and immediate physical danger, not a third-generation
descendant of the 1948 war.
Further, the Israeli navy could take up
position just outside Syria’s nautical border. The posture would – again – be
defensive militarily but with an “open arms” policy for poor Sunni refugees from
Latakia in flight from Assad’s mercenaries. At the very least, the measure would
expose the hypocritical outrage of the Gaza flotillas, whose organizers shed not
a tear nor lift a finger for Syria.
There is no question Israel will have
to deal with a post-Assad Syria, so why not start that process now? It is
reasonable to presume that among the Syrians who take safe harbor outside the
country, future leaders might be found – future leaders with less hostile
memories of Israel. Israel cannot shape events in the Arab world, nor should it
risk military intervention where there is no clear strategic threat.
mistaken conclusion from these two precepts is self-imposed isolation. Once
Israelis realize that this isn’t an option either, Israel can instead do what it
used to do: Take the moral high ground, lead by example, and thus promote its
diplomatic interests.The writer holds a PhD in International Relations
from Queen’s University, Ontario. He completed post-doctoral studies at Hebrew
University, Jerusalem, and follows Israel’s diplomatic and strategic position.
Rusonik lives with his family in Toronto, working as an Information Technology
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