Israel has always blown its concerns about the deteriorating situation in Syria out of proportion. It is true that Israel fears the chaos in Syria spilling over into Lebanon and that sophisticated Syrian arms might fall into the hands of radical Islamic groups, particularly Hezbollah. However, Israel cannot deny that the ongoing troubled situation in Syria is working out to its advantage.
As long as the bloody conflict in Syria does not spill over and directly threaten its own stability, Israel will continue to benefit from the bloodbath. The Syrian civil war is breaking apart the Syrian army and exposing its weak points. This undoubtedly serves Israel’s interests. What’s more, the attention being paid to the events in Syria on the part of Arab and international actors is having adverse consequences on the Palestinian cause. Indeed, this has relieved the pressure on Israel to resume political negotiations with the Palestinians. The Israeli coalition government has been able to continue with its settlement operations unchecked.
It is true that Israelis fear an Islamist takeover were Bashar al-Assad to fall, and that a new regime might intensify Syrian claims to the occupied Golan Heights. However, they are well aware that Syria post-Assad will need time to rebuild its government institutions and society. Syria will need a long time to overcome the devastating repercussions of its civil war. All of this will give Israel ample time to prepare itself for the next phase.
In contrast to the statements made by certain Israeli officials, Israel is not in a hurry to see Assad fall, despite its conviction that any political settlement in Syria will inevitably entail his removal. However, in the meantime Israel does not mind the Syrian crisis dragging on as this will further weaken Assad’s power as a political leader. Some Israeli commentators, such as Isaac Lior from the Haaretz newspaper, believe that America’s reluctance to intervene in Syria serves Israel’s interests.
Israel has realized that it has no influence on the Arab Spring — it came as a surprise to Israel as much as it did to others. Yet, Israel is good at guarding its own interests. Were the Syrian civil war to turn into a conflict between Russia and the West (and the US in particular), it would work out to Israel’s advantage, as it enjoys a good relationship with both the Russians and the Americans.
To conclude, however, what is beyond doubt is that Israel does not wish for Syria to end up being another weak neighboring state, like Iraq and Lebanon.