For Israel, Assad's Regime Lesser of Two Evils

Article Summary
Despite the Syrian regime's cozy relationship with Hezbollahh and Iran, many Israeli officials prefer Assad’s survival, writes Randa Haidar. They fear the fall of the Assad government will create another failed state—a dangerous arena for the kind of guerrilla attacks that Israel finds more daunting than regular warfare.  

It seems that Israel would prefer that Bashar al-Assad’s regime survive rather than see Syria turn into another “failed state” like its neighbors Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. These states suffer from a weak central authority and the collapse of state institutions as a result of internal fighting, chaos and competition among armed groups over control of political life.

Israel’s chief concern is not the rise of Islamic forces in Syria. Nor is it the possible ramifications if the anti-Assad revolution turns into a bloody sectarian conflict. Israel fears that the fate of Syria after Assad will be like that of Libya after the toppling of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. This would mean the "dismantling" of the state, its governing institutions and its security forces. Syria would turn into a chaotic hotbed of armed militias. In turn, this would pose a serious threat to the calm and stability that has prevailed in the Golan Heights since the October 1973 (Yom Kippur) war. Israel also fears the possibility of the border area with Syria turning into something like that with Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula. The Sinai, for example, is now largely an arena for guerilla wars between armed guerillas and the Israeli army, which has found it difficult to take conclusive action against its foes despite its military superiority. The history of Arab-Israeli wars has shown that Israel is capable of achieving decisive victory in conventional military confrontations, but that it is less able to win in a confrontation against unconventional guerilla groups.

The Libyan case served as an important lesson for the West and Israel regarding ways to deal with the Arab Spring revolutions. Libya was also one of the main reasons for the West’s—and particularly the United States' — reluctance to provide military assistance to armed Syrian opposition groups. This also set off alarm bells in Israel and helped conservative Israelis promote their views. These Israelis still see the survival of the Assad regime as in their best interests, despite its alliance with their principal enemies Iran and Hezbollah.

The last thing Israel would like to see is a disruption in the state of affairs on its border with Syria as a result of Assad’s fall, especially now that it is fighting a fateful battle against Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu views these weapons as a threat to Israel's existence and its future.

Found in: sinai peninsula, sinai, iran, hezbollah, guerrilla warfare, golan heights, failed state, border security, border, bashar al-assad

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