JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked his ministers to keep a low profile concerning the current events in Syria. This order by the head of the government is a sign of Israels confusion over how to react to the recent demonstrations against Bashar al-Assads regime in Syria, as well as its sense of powerlessness. As local commentators and experts in the media like to underline, Israel is facing a dilemma.
On the one hand, Bashar al-Assad is a lesser evil, a hostile leader whose actions are nevertheless rational and predictable. On the other, his fall from power would weaken the axis of evil constituted by Iran, Syria, Hezbollah of Lebanon, and Palestinian Islamists of Hamas, says Professor Meir Litvak, referring to the four most formidable enemies of Israel. A university specialist on Iran, Litvak alludes to the Syrian role in allowing, for many years now, the transport of Iranian weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas which they then use to threaten the north and south of Israel. This alliance is also evidenced by the presence of Hamas headquarters in Damascus.
Plans of Attacks
Yet at the Syrian border with Israel, particularly in the Golan Heights, Bashar al-Assad has continued to preserve the peace, anxious to avoid even the slightest direct confrontation with an enemy he knows to be superior. He even refrained from responding to a September 2007 air attack - believed to be Israeli according to foreign experts - against a nuclear center that was being secretly built in northern Syria with the help of North Korea.
However this cautious approach could be thrown to the wind by the beleaguered el-Assad. Itamar Rabinovitch, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, does not preclude the possibility of a desperate attempt by al-Assad and the Iranians to trigger a conflict with Israel in Lebanon or the Gaza Strip in order to divert attention from the situation in Syria. It might not be a coincidence that the counter-terrorism office, an official organization under the authority of the prime minister, has just launched a warning about some very specific plans for anti-Israeli attacks abroad that Hezbollah might be about to commit.
In terms of a possible post-el-Assad period, the uncertainty is also obvious. Israeli media has raised the worrying possibility of a civil war in Syria, which could bolster the Muslim Brotherhood. Commentator Mordehaï Kedar, speaking on public radio, suggested the situation could even lead to the break-up of Syria, with a Kurdish state in the North, Druze one in the South, a Bedouin enclave in the East, and the region around Damascus transformed into an Alawite principality, the minority religion to which al-Assad belongs. He warned that this implosion would lead to the return of a fragmented Middle East, divided along ethnic and religious lines, which prevailed during the Ottoman Empire.
Not everyone agrees with this analysis of the situation. The majority of experts believe that it will be the Syrian army, which until now has remained loyal al-Assad, which will decide the fate of the regime and guarantee the countrys unity.
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Photo - The Jewish Agency for Israel