Is Israel Better Off With Assad in Power?

Article Summary
Rafi Noy, former IDF Northern Command chief of staff, writes that Assad’s regime may be better for Israel than that of the insurgents, whose identity remains obscure and who may be motivated by a fundamentalist orientation rather than nationalism.

Nobody knows who the insurgents really are or the kind of Syria Israel will have to grapple with once they seize power. With the incumbent regime, by contrast, we’ve been getting along for dozens of years. 

Unlike the prophecies about the fall of Assad’s regime within a matter of weeks or within a relatively short period of time, the situation in Syria is becoming increasingly entangled. As time goes by, pivotal issues concerning the civil war between the insurgents and the Syrian regime come to light. The first one is the fog shrouding the identity of these insurgents. It remains unclear who leads the Syrian opposition and where they want to take Syria once Assad’s regime is toppled. Furthermore, it becomes increasingly evident that the insurgents also consist of external forces which are unrelated to the Syrian people. Those are international terrorist groups, some of which fall under the definition of al-Qaeda while others are affiliated with Salafist and radical and fundamentalist Islamic organizations. Druze and other minorities, which are concerned by of what underlies these rebel organizations, do not cooperate with them. Pitted against them is the Syrian military, whose command skeleton consists of the Alawite community. Realizing that losing the war against the insurgency could mean their death sentence, they are in fact fighting for their life.

The struggle between the insurgent groups and the Syrian military takes places practically all across Syria. We have recently seen a similar type of fighting south of Quneitra, near the village of Bir al-Ajam. The insurgents jostled their way between the forward outposts of the Syrian divisions and the Israeli border. Consequently, the fire of the Syrian military, which was aimed at the insurgents but poorly executed, saw a few shells landing on the Israeli side. The response of the IDF was levelheaded and proportionate. Not only did it make it clear to the Syrians that they have to ensure that no shells are fired at Israel, but it also demonstrated the immense technological gap between the Syrian military and the IDF.

Yesterday [Nov. 12], when another stray Syrian shell fell inside Israel, a platoon of Israeli-made Merkava tanks fired shells, hitting the cannon and probably inflicting casualties to the Syrians. I hope that the IDF will not be dragged and will not drag the Syrian military into fire exchanges, which at the beginning seem unproblematic to us, but which could become a matter of routine, later spiraling into a very undesirable situation.

In this regard, extra caution should be exercised, because the Syrian regime might understand that it has the potential of creating a momentum for war against Israel. This may help the regime, since Israel remains Syria’s arch-enemy. It would be easier to rally the people around the regime in order to wage war against the Zionist enemy. It appears that the rebels are very careful not to fall into Assad’s hands in this regard, and so far it doesn’t look as if the Syrian regime is taking action in that direction. However, such a development, which is undesirable for Israel, could nonetheless unfold.

As for further reaction, we should be careful not to engage in a strategy in which every shell that lands in our area is met by Israeli retaliation that will hurt Syrian soldiers, as this could alter the entire picture.

There are people in Israel who harbor expectations for the fall of Assad’s regime which will be then seized by the insurgents. I believe that from an Israeli standpoint Assad’s regime is better than that of the insurgents, whose identity remains obscure. We don’t know what kind of a state we will have to face once they rise to power. From my own experience I know that such moves normally neither improve our situation nor make the region calmer or quieter; quite the contrary. We’ve seen it in many places. In the wake of the Arab Spring, the regimes in the region have changed and the atmosphere toward Israel has become more hostile.

Without making proclamations to that effect, Israel’s interest is for the Alawite regime to remain in power. While there is indeed one stumbling block in connection with Assad’s regime — being the bridge between Iran and Hezbollah — still the situation could deteriorate once the regime is replaced.

Under Assad, Syria is a country with a regime whose motives are nationalistic and not religious-fundamentalist oriented. Equally important, we know who we’re dealing with, and we’ve been living with that regime for dozens of years, successfully and in relative quiet.

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Found in: syrian crisis, syrian, security, israel defense forces, israel, idf, assad

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