Assad’s fall would be welcome

The ouster of the Syrian president would significantly improve Israel’s strategic situation.

Three months ago, the January 25 revolution broke out in Egypt. Since then, the flames of revolt burning across Arab capitals have refused to die out. Ousted Tunisian president Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali fled his country’s civilian protests and found refuge in the bosom of the Saudi royal family. Egypt’s deposed president Hosni Mubarak, forced to transfer rule to the military, is currently hopping between police investigators and the emergency room. Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi is leading a fight for survival in his country against the rebels who are reinforced by NATO air raids which almost certainly guarantee a future victory. In Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan, as well, tensions continue to rise. The effects of the volcano that erupted some 90 days ago, are still felt in Middle Eastern cities.
Events in Syria will have a more decisive impact than those in any other Arab country. While the implications of the turbulence in Egypt over the peace treaty with Israel should not be taken lightly, it is too early to tell where Cairo is heading. The military establishment has not transferred its rule and its connection to the West remains firm and authentic. It is very possible that Mubarak’s exit from the political stage will be a catalyst for further consolidation of this culture of political democratization, but will not lead to a change in political orientation. Meanwhile, the fall of Bashar Assad’s regime would result in dramatic regional change. Unlike many respected commentators, I believe that such a development would significantly improve Israel’s strategic situation.
CONCERN OVER the collapse of the Alawite minority rule is based on our longstanding truce with Syria, in place since 1973. I disagree with the approach that praises Assad for the quiet Israel-Syria border.
Although he has adhered to the restraint practiced by his late father, former president Hafez Assad, with respect to maintaining agreements such as the ceasefire in the Golan Heights, in many other areas he has led an adventurous policy which has placed him in direct confrontation with Israel. The calm northern border has provided him with a cover for militant, aggressive, and frustratingly effective activity on various fronts and against Israel’s interests.
Syria, via its proxies, spilled IDF blood in Lebanon for three decades. Israel’s forced unilateral withdrawal to the Israeli-Lebanon border was without any real achievement or value. Assad offered a safe haven in Damascus to senior leaders of terrorist organizations and allowed them to continue their terror activities, with unlimited freedom, from his capital.
The Syria-Iran alliance has provided Hamas and its satellites with financial aid, training camps, a supply of modern weapons and political backing. Sponsored by the intimate cooperation between Tehran and Damascus, a fanatic terror kingdom, armed to the teeth, was established on our southern border four years ago, and has since already exacted a tangible price from Israel.
Hezbollah’s success in gaining unprecedented power in Lebanon can also be attributed to the Syrian president’s determination. In past years, Assad consistently rebuffed pressures from the Bush administration and refused to turn his back on Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, despite threats and sanctions imposed on Syria.
Syria’s enthusiastic support for Hezbollah has turned it into Lebanon’s strongest organization militarily, and the most significant political force in the majority coalition, which is currently trying to establish a new government.
GIVEN THIS background – and we have not even mentioned the reports of Syria’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons – it is difficult to support any position that allows for the Assad regime’s continued rule.
Those who disagree with an Assad departure are troubled by the possibility that his successors will deviate from the path of restraint that characterized him, and opt for a more provocative policy toward Israel.
The probability of this occurring is minimal, I believe. With citizens’ blood flowing in the streets, it seems more likely that Assad’s successors will first seek to sideline the devoted supporters of the hated duo, Nasrallah and Ahmadinejad. Syria’s opposition, like most of Syrian society, are members of the Sunni community.
If opposition leaders survive the conflict, overcome the current oppressive regime and fill key positions in Syria, they are unlikely to show a surplus of sympathy toward the Shias of Iran and Hezbollah.
To know what would really serves Israel’s interest, we should look toward the Islamic Republic. Nothing currently worries the ayatollahs’ regime more than the loss of Syria as its intimate partner in the “axis of evil.” Iran has invested enormous resources in maintaining this partnership, including a willingness to compromise on its own interests to satisfy Syria’s desires. Syria’s defection from the radical camp into the arms of the pragmatic Arab camp would leave Iran isolated and vulnerable.
Even Hezbollah leaders have recently found it difficult to sleep at night. Who is better aware of the grave impending damage should its extensive connections, carefully cultivated among the Syrian leadership, be severed? Intelligence, logistical and operational assets which have enabled them to maintain a balance of deterrence both against Israel and other power sources in Lebanon may all vanish.
Of course, it would be arrogant to predict at this stage the outcome of the processes of change our neighbors are undergoing. Things are as hopeful as they are dangerous. A positive surprise today can be revealed as a naïve illusion tomorrow.
Nonetheless, history has shown us more than once that events that were at first looked upon as wishful thinking, eventually became a reality. Perhaps at the end of this battle over Syria’s future, it will turn out that, contrary to the gloomy biblical prophecy, it will not be evil that will break forth from the north (Jeremiah 1:14), but rather, a blessing The writer is a former Kadima minister.