Last week was the bloodiest in Syria since the uprising began, continuing through Monday. The arrival of Arab League observers, expected to appear in the war torn city of Homs Tuesday, did nothing to change the situation. Car bombs exploded outside government buildings, the regime’s security forces carried out a massacre, and clashes between defectors and Assad’s forces indicate the conflict is spiraling downwards. The outcome is of extreme concern to Israel, which sees an enemy in Assad but also an enemy in the Islamists among those protesting him. The Israeli leadership has taken a stand: It wants Assad to fall.
It has been repeatedly stated that Israel would prefer the secular dictatorship of Bashar Assad stay in power than collapse, potentially throwing the country into civil war and precipitating an Islamist takeover. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal to correct its coverage of Israel’s stance.
“Allied with Iran, Mr. Assad has helped supply 55,000 rockets to Hezbollah and 10,000 to Hamas, very likely established a clandestine nuclear arms program…[Assad] confirms Israel’s fears that the devil we know in Syria is worse than the devil we don’t,” Oren wrote. In April, President Peres said, “I believe finally that a democratic system in Syria is our best bet for the future.”
Barak said that the revolution’s success would be a major blow to Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah. It would also benefit Turkey, the primary backer of the Syrian opposition. Barak said this would benefit Israel because Turkey is competing with Iran. However, Turkey’s sharp turn against Israel under the leadership of Erdogan is undeniable and dangerous. Senior U.S. State Department official Frederic Hof stated that Assad is the “equivalent of dead man walking.”
Indeed, Assad is tied at the hip with Iran and Hezbollah and he has been a staunch supporter of Hamas and other terrorists. Iran and Hezbollah have dispatched operatives to take part in Assad’s crackdown, with soldiers reporting that Shiite extremists are executing Syrian soldiers who refuse to fire on their countrymen. Iran recently began a secret air lift to Syria, sending seven commercial airliners to Damascus each week loaded with weapons.
Assad’s relationship with Hamas, however, is breaking. Iran is threatening to stop training, funding and arming the terrorist group if it leaves Syria. Hamas has mostly brought its staff out of Damascus, leaving behind a minimal presence. It is moving to Gaza, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar. The Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is on the side of the revolution, so Hamas is stuck in between a rock and a hard place and is preparing to align with its Sunni brethren.
Defense Minister Barak argues that Syria’s population cannot be compared with that of Egypt, describing it as more secular. Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Yaalon agrees with Barak, saying that Assad’s fall is only a matter of “time and bloodshed.” Yaalon says there are “moderate Sunni elements” in Syria that are not like the Muslim Brotherhood. The Syrian opposition agrees and most of the activists arrested by the regime are secularists.
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