Israel prefers Assad in power

Jacky Hougy

Israel's quiet support of Assad has no partners in the US and the EU, who are hesitantly seeking ways to weaken him, and brings Israel into tacit alliance with Hezbollah.

It is an open secret that Israel's leaders want Syrian President Bashar Assad to survive. His victory would keep Syria's chemical weapons in responsible hands, and prevent Syria's complete loss of law and order, which would jeopardize Israel's security.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has kept quiet on this point, taking care not to speak about his position in public. President Shimon Peres, who coordinates diplomatic matters with Netanyahu, sent a message to Assad at the World Economic Forum in London this week, saying that Israel has no intention of intervening in Syria's internal affairs.

Jerusalem cannot openly express its position, to avoid been perceived as collaborating with the Assad regime, strengthening it, and exposing Israel's disagreement with its friends in Washington. But what the government quietly whispers, unofficial spokesmen say out loud. For example, former Minister of Defense Binyamin Ben-Eliezer says that the lack of an address in Damascus is bad for Israel. Former Mossad chief Efraim Halevy called Assad "our man in Damascus" in an article in "Foreign Affairs". Halevy believes that the ongoing chaos in Syria enthralls Islamists in the region and threatens the security of Israel's neighbors, including Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq.

Israel's quiet support of Assad has no partners in the US and the EU, who are hesitantly seeking ways to weaken him. On Monday, the EU gave the green light to supply arms to Syrian rebels.

But here is the wonder: while Israel disagrees with its friends in the West, it lining up with Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah. This is a rare instance of unspoken convergence of interests between the Israeli government and the Shia militia in Lebanon as far as the future of the Syrian regime is concerned. The critical question is not whether Assad is good for them, but whether his heirs will be good for them. Both Jerusalem and Beirut will provide the same sweeping answer - no, each for its own reasons.

In its 30 years of existence, Hezbollah has waged bloody religious battles, but they have been limited in scale and intensity. The most important development in Syria in the past few months has been Hezbollah's involvement in the fighting. Nasrallah's soldiers are fighting with Assad's troops against the Sunni militias, some of which are Jihadist organizations. According to unofficial reports, at least 120 Hezbollah fighters have been killed to date in the campaign to save the Syrian regime.

Hezbollah, the Shia militia that is Israel's bitter enemy, is at its weakest point against the IDF. All its signals, munitions, and resources are invested in Syria. This reality could last for years, and has strategic significance for the region as a whole. It drags Lebanon into Syria's war (reprisals by Syrian rebels have included Katyusha rocket strikes against Hezbollah's stronghold in south Beirut). In the foreseeable future, the war in Syria can change the balance of forces between Israel and Hezbollah.

The wise man who can destroy a fanatical guerilla organization has not yet been born

Some Israelis still hope for Assad's fall because of his honored membership in the Shia-Alawite axis. They say, justifiably, that Assad is an ally of Iran and Hezbollah's hinterland, and that weakening him will hurt them. Undermining the Iranian-Syrian camp is exactly the objective of the rebels and their Qatari and Saudi patrons, who are enemies of Iran. But the collapse of Damascus will not promise regional quiet; on the contrary, it will double and redouble the threat to their existence.

Among those who call for the collapse of Damascus, are those who have acted on Israel's behalf, without success, to save the country and its people from the non-state enemies which have emerged, such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Jihadist elements in Sinai. David Wurmser, a security adviser to former US Vice President Dick Cheney recently told “IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal) why the Bush administration preferred to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but not declare war against Teheran. Wurmser said President George W. Bush believed at the time that it was possible to reach understandings with Iran and that there was someone to talk with. He added that this idea still prevails in Washington, even if it has not been realized.

There are ways to deal with countries, no matter how radical. They have addresses, soft bellies, and are exposed to a range of international pressures. But in Israel, the wise man who can destroy a fanatical guerilla organization has not yet been born. When such a man appears, it will be possible to call for the fall of Assad.

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

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on May 30, 2013

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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