Assad's fall would pose threat to Israel

Jacky Hougy

It is hard for Israelis to admit that the stability of the Baath regime in Damascus has been a cornerstone of Israel's security.

We are witnessing a march of fools. International calls for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad by outside intervention are growing. The same Great Powers that rushed to oust Muamar Qaddafi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but then stayed out of the subsequent anarchy created are hinting that they are considering the military option against Assad in Damascus.

Israel's leaders contribute to this atmosphere. Kadima chairman and Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz has called for direct outside intervention in Syria. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Assad is committing genocide and crimes against humanity. President Shimon Peres has concluded that Bashar Assad did not inherit his father's smarts, but only his murderous policies, and that he is doomed.

It will be interesting to see how the policymakers in Jerusalem will cope the day after Bashar Assad is gone, with a new and dangerous front opening overnight. You don’t have to be a prophet to imagine what will happen if the Baath regime in Syria collapses. It is enough to look at neighboring Iraq and the more distant Libya.

The Americans made several simultaneous mistakes with the ouster of Saddam Hussein. They realized the Iranian dream of expanding their influence in an Arab neighbor, a dream that Teheran itself could not realize thanks to Saddam's solid position in Baghdad. The Americans gave rise to a terrorism industry in Iraq, which exports its products to neighboring countries. The Americans harmed the economy, and political stability of Iraq and personal safety of Iraqis, and let the genie out of the bottle.

The scenario was repeated in Libya. NATO, led by France and with US support, created a new center of instability in Europe's backyard. Today's Libya is a flock without a shepherd, riven by internal struggles and the settling of accounts. Its weapons stockpiles are a treasure trove for pirates and smugglers.

Earlier this month, Egypt's interior minister announced the seizure of a shipment of 260 Libyan missiles en route to Gaza. Qaddafi's bunkers have been emptied and their contents are reaching Gaza where they threaten Israel. Israeli politicians of late have taken to warning against Syrian chemical weapons reaching irresponsible hands. There is no need to go so far. It would be enough for a few Katyushas launched by a group of young and inexperienced men for the communities of the Golan Heights to again find themselves on the front line.

Imagine the following scenario: Kassam rockets hit communities in the south, and Israel is drawn into a strong retaliation in Gaza. The Islamic Jihad takes heavy losses, which it refuses to accept. The Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus decides to exploit the collapse of the Baath regime to initiate an act of solidarity with its brothers in Gaza, and Katzrin is hit by a barrage of Katyushas fired from Syrian territory. At the same time, an armed squad attempts to enter the Golan. A third squad fires machine guns across the border at Israeli cars. The day after Assad, these are not imaginary scenarios.

It is hard for Israelis to admit that the stability of the Baath regime in Damascus has been a cornerstone of Israel's security in the almost four decades since the Yom Kippur War. Assad is not a bitter enemy; he could even be called a convenient enemy. Israel has learned to get along with the Assad regime, and it will be hard to live in peace in its absence. The fall of Assad threatens the peace of communities in the north, and Israel must actively work to prevent this. Jerusalem has the right to feel the pain of the Syrian people, but it does not have the right to encourage instability in Syria.

The Syrian regime is trigger-happy and it has committed terrible atrocities in its war against its enemies. But the rebellion against it is not a picture in black and white. The Syrian Army is not leveling whole towns of Syria's citizens for the pleasure of it, but where rebels are operating. Many of the rebels are Jihadists, who will slaughter members of the fallen regime.

Three countries support the rebels: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, and each of them has its own agenda, which is based on rivalry with Damascus. The day when the Pandora's Box is opened in the north, they will not stand with Jerusalem. They might even join the chorus calling for the indictment of Israel's leaders if they decide to protect their citizens.

The only solution in Syria is to keep the regime in place, while making the hoped-for changes. Destroying the delicate structure that Assad heads will lead to chaos and anarchy. The Great Powers should draw up a road map to save the Syrian people and their regime from tragedy; not to save Assad and the Alawites, but to save us and them from a second Iraq.

The author is the Arab Affairs correspondent for “IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal).

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on July 17, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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