ישראל נאמן | Lectures, Articles, Tours: Israel | Mideast onTarget | Elliot Chodoff & Yisrael Ne'eman | Confronting Syria?

Confronting Syria?

20 July 2006

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Limited, but intensive Israeli ground attacks are destroying the Hezbollah infrastructure of arms caches, rockets, katuysha launchers and bunkers in south Lebanon since yesterday while the air force continues its bombardments of Hezbollah strongholds in the Beirut region. In the past few days many are pointing out the deep Syrian involvement in arming the Hezbollah, especially in light of the munitions convoy sent by Damascus and destroyed by Israel.

There are those who demand that Israel engage Syria, seeing the Assad regime as responsible for the Hezbollah’s strength and overt hostility. Surprisingly, left wing Meretz MK Yossi Beilin is one of them. Others of course come from the Right and include US Pres. Bush and quite a few of his advisors.

Any engagement with Syria is very tricky business. Syria is made up of 65% Sunnis (split between religious Moslem Brotherhood types and the pro-Ba’ath secularists), Druze (4%), Alawites of which Assad is a member (12%), Christians (13%) and Kurds (4%) and a few other minorities. In a war Israel would get hit with long range rockets (some possibly with non-conventional warheads) and suffer a fair amount of damage. And lest we forget, the Iranians have pledged to get involved should Israel take direct action against Damascus.

But just for a moment let’s project the possibility of an overwhelming Israeli victory. Three options exit as replacement to the present secular Ba’athist regime:

*The hoped for result by the West is the development of a reformist movement where democracy would sweep the country. This will take a bit of help from the West, especially the US, since everyone is aware that only Washington (with the help of London) would be interested in sending troops to “stabilize” the situation. Then there would begin the “teaching democracy” process to those formerly living in the Ba’athist dictatorship. The US has gained a good amount of experience doing this in Iraq and can be expected to do a comparable job.

*Option Two would see the collapse of the present regime and a free for all, resulting in long term chaos similar to what the Lebanese suffered during their civil war of 1975 – 90 or much like the situation in Iraq today. It is not in Israel’s interests to suffer anarchy from heavily armed militias on today’s relatively silent Golan front. Israel has enough problems in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

*The most probable development would begin with anarchy and end with a Moslem Brotherhood takeover. This is akin to placing bin Laden on Israel’s northeastern frontier. Hafez Assad (the late father of today’s president) massacred tens of thousands of the Brotherhood (and their innocent women and children) in 1982 in the city of Hama in a show of strength never to be forgotten. This was his crowning success in putting down the revolt by the heavily armed Sunni Islamist militant group. Assad knew it was a zero sum game where outright victory was the only way to halt the uprising. Today the Brotherhood is the only group with a unified cohesive ideology. They would inherit Syria’s non-conventional chemical and biological arsenal along with the usual tanks, aircraft and navy. Hamas would not just be welcomed in the Syrian capital but would be seen as blood brothers. Hezbollah (although Shi’ite) would enjoy even more support as long as they were doing battle against Israel.

Syria rightfully deserves serious punishment for its wholesale support of Hezbollah, its misdeeds in Lebanon and for hosting Palestinian terrorists. Israel can win the war (and suffer the damages). Another radical Islamic regime is the last thing Israel or the West needs in the Middle East. As bad as Assad is, his Ba’athist regime would only be replaced by a group much worse.

Winning the war is not particularly the question, but rather does anyone know how to win the peace?