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Israel Well-Situated for Possible Assad Downfall

Arguably first to advocate Syrian regime change, a widely popular position now

Marc Tracy
October 26, 2011
Syrians protest against President Assad last week outside an Arab League meeting in Cairo.(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

Syrians protest against President Assad last week outside an Arab League meeting in Cairo.(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

The news isn’t that Israel, as Ambassador Michael Oren told the Christian Science Monitor yesterday, sees “a possible ouster of [President] Assad as affording an opportunity to us.” The news is that this is news. He said much the same thing to Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith last month. As early as June, he felt compelled to send a letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal clarifying Israel’s feelings. Everybody assumed Israel preferred the strife-filled stability of the Assad regime to an unknown that could include an Islamist takeover. But, in arguably situating Israel as the first country (there are now many) to advocate regime change in Damascus, Oren insisted, “Allied with Iran, 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. 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.”

Relatively speaking, the past month has been fairly quiet on the Syrian front. Earlier this week, the heroic U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford—in her new book, by the way, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice regrets pulling the Syrian ambassador in 2005—temporarily departed due to “credible threats” against him. Yesterday, a prominent opposition group requested international protection from an impending crackdown. Hezbollah recently insisted Assad has left the revolutionary “danger zone” behind. Compared to the past months, which have involved mass sieges of major cities and thousands of protesters killed in the streets, it seems pacific.

But a new poll finds that in Arab countries support for Assad versus the opposition groups ranges from 17 percent to 0 percent (ups to Jordan!), which is nothing short of incredible and inspiring. So, here’s another reason for Israel to root for Assad’s downfall: It will put it on the right side of the Arab Spring. And the dramatic death of Muammar Qaddafi is reportedly revivifying protests. “The focus of the world will now turn to Syria,” said the opposition Syrian National Council’s leader after the former Libyan dictator was executed. “It’s Syria’s turn to receive attention.”

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.