Fact: Israel does not have an official position on Syria. In fact, its cabinet is fiercely divided over whether to take a position, with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s preference of tactical ambiguity winning out. So technically, we don’t know how Israel feels about President Assad’s butchering of his own people.
Of course, we do know that the regime has killed more than 6,000 people and that the United Nations has found evidence it has committed crimes against humanity. We know its remaining friends on the world stage are Venezuela and China, Russia, and Iran.
We know that, as former Mossad director Ephraim Halevy explained, bringing down the Assad regime will strike a fierce blow against Iran. We know the unrest has already pulled Hamas away from Damascus and toward Cairo and possibly Amman or Qatar—which, again, brings it out of Iran’s orbit, and which is therefore very good for Israel. Just today, Hamas’ leaders endorsed the rebellion against Assad.
And we know that Israel has quietly pointed out that Assad’s fall would be great news. Many months ago, before most countries had taken a position on Syria, the talk was that Israel would kind of prefer that Assad stay: it had just lost President Mubarak, this thinking went, and couldn’t afford more instability. “For the second time, a recent Journal article asserts that Israel has expressed fears of instability in Syria if leader Bashar al-Assad is overthrown,” wrote Ambassador Michael Oren in a letter to the Wall Street Journal last June. “I emphatically denied this the first time and categorically deny it again. Israel has expressed no such concerns. Allied with Iran, Mr. Assad has helped supply 55,000 rockets to Hezbollah and 10,000 to Hamas, very likely established a clandestine nuclear arms program and profoundly destabilized the region.” He concluded, “The violence he has unleashed on his own people demonstrating for freedoms confirms Israel’s fears that the devil we know in Syria is worse than the devil we don’t.”
I’ll step aside and let contributing editor Jeff Goldberg finish my thought:
The hatred of Jews and the Jewish national home by men whom history has adjudged to be comprehensively evil should suggest a couple of lessons. The possible theological and cosmological lessons I will leave for another day, but the political lessons are more obvious: Good people should take the hatred directed at Israel by evil people as a sign that, just maybe, Israel’s basic cause is just. Israel and its supporters should understand that the enmity reflects well on their cause, and they should do whatever they can to guarantee that their behavior could never possibly be seen as analogous to the behavior of their enemies.
Israeli Government Sharply Divided Over Response to Syrian Unrest [Haaretz]
Iran’s Achilles’ Heel [NYT]
Hamas Ditches Assad, Backs Syrian Revolt [Reuters]
U.N. Report Finds Syria Guilty of Crimes Against Humanity [FP Turtle Bay]
Israel Prefers The End of the Assad Regime To Its Continuance [WSJ]
With These Enemies, Israel Needs More Friends [Bloomberg View]