Far from a second Tahrir Square, this is actually a massive pro-regime rally in Damascus.(Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images)

When the Egyptian masses rose against President Hosni Mubarak, it was not difficult to see how and why Israeli officials might wish for him to have survived the protests: Egypt had a peace treaty with Israel, was a staunch foe of Iran’s, and in addition to maintaining a quiet border has kept up intelligence and military contacts. Now that Syrian President Bashar Assad is experiencing similar upheaval—his cabinet has resigned; his people are marching in the streets—you might expect a different Israeli response: Here, after all, is a country with no peace treaty; a relatively close alliance with Iran; active sponsorship of Hezbollah, which Israel went to war with less than five years ago; and extremely limited if any military, intelligence, or diplomatic contact.

Yet, report both the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, Israeli officials are (quietly) rooting for Assad’s survival. Assad is far from ideal from their perspective, they privately say, but he is better than civil war to the north or an Islamist takeover; and besides, say what you want about him, he has kept his own country’s border with Israel quiet for more than a decade despite a territorial dispute. In other words, Assad’s claim that the protests stem from an “Israeli agenda” is not only a crazy, paranoid, anti-Semitic conspiracy—it also just doesn’t make any sense. (That was a little joke.)

More broadly, the case of Syria is the latest iteration in the dominant regional question, of whether traditional stability—an authoritarian ruler enforcing the line with an iron fist—is indeed preferable to messier but more inoculated democracy. In the New York Times today, a Syrian human rights activist makes the case for the latter.

Israel, Long Critical of Assad, May Prefer He Stay After All [WP]
Israel Fears the Alternative if Syria’s Assad Falls [LAT]
Assad: Syria Protests Aim To Enforce an ‘Israeli Agenda’ [Haaretz]
The Myth of Syrian Stability [NYT]