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Israel Rethinks Assumptions About Syria

The sudden change in assumptions on the Syrian war should invite us to wonder about the basis on which they were made.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a news conference at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, May 14, 2013. Putin said on Tuesday it was important to avoid actions that might aggravate Syria's civil war, a veiled warning against foreign military intervention or arming anti-government forces. REUTERS/Maxim Shipenkov/Pool (RUSSIA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTXZLY6

For the past two years, there have been a number of generally accepted assumptions about what will finally happen in Syria. By late last week, these assumptions came crashing down with the raucous force of an earthquake. We are talking about the very opinions that were considered to be conventional wisdom among the Israeli public, and which had considerable impact on political decision-makers and military strategists alike for the past two years. These are the core assumptions:

  1. International intervention in Syria is inevitable. Sooner or later the free world will be forced to take action to save the country’s civilian population from the clutches of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his army.

  2. An Israeli attack on Assad will cause him to recoil in terror and force him to avoid transferring arms to Hezbollah or responding with a counter-attack.

  3. The aid that Qatar and Turkey provide to the rebels should ultimately change the balance of power.

  4. The apple (Bashar) has fallen far from the tree (former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad). According to this assumption, Bashar is afraid of his own shadow, and even the faintest breeze can discombobulate him and throw him off balance (this is, by the way, how he is portrayed in the popular Israeli television satire "Eretz Nehederet," but more on that later).

  5. Israeli intelligence assessments provide an accurate account of the situation and should be the basis of any future decisions about how to respond to the situation in Syria.

  6. Assad’s regime will be deposed in a matter of weeks” (former Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Dec. 11, 2011).

Then, within a week, everyone woke up to the fact that the most important parameter of all was overlooked in the most recent analyses of the situation in the Middle East in general and Syria in particular. The assumption is that the geopolitical game here has remained very much the same since the signing of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. All that has changed is the players.

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