Bashar Assad just lost another major ally. No, not Iran: Tehran is still the regime’s staunch backer–the only one it has left. No, not Turkey: Ankara turned against Assad weeks ago. And not Hamas: It too has already abandoned Assad. The latest government to join the anti-Assad caucus? Israel.
At first glance, this may seem like a surprising defection. Who would ever have expected Israel to be a supporter of Assad in the first place? Syria under the Assads (father and son) fought Israel in 1972 and 1982–and those were just the overt wars. Syria has also been a major source of surreptitious support to anti-Israel terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Yet all the while, Israeli officials quietly supported the Assads–or at least did not try to topple them–on the “better the devil you know” theory. Now that’s changed, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak telling reporters that Assad is finished and that’s a good thing:
“When the Assad family falls, it will be a major blow to the radical axis led by Iran,” Barak said. “It will weaken Iran, it will weaken Hezbollah and weaken the backing for Hamas, and it will deprive the Iranians of a real stronghold in the Arab world. It will strengthen Turkey, which is a natural rival to Iran’s hegemonic intentions…This is something positive for Israel.”
The only mystery here is why the Israeli leadership has only now realized keeping Assad in power is not in their country’s interest. But better late than never.
The challenge now will be to usher Assad out as quickly as possible. Count me as skeptical he will be ousted within “weeks” as Barak predicts. He can hang on much longer, I fear, while Syrian society is ripped apart. Yet the Obama administration is adopting an unthinking policy of refusing to support armed rebellion against the criminal clique in Damascus.
This may seem to be a humanitarian policy–who can argue in theory with nonviolence?–but in fact it is deeply immoral because it consigns more Syrian civilians to death at the hands of ruthless government goons. It is high time for the administration to adopt the policy urged by the Washington Post editorial board which writes: “If it is not doing so already, the administration should be quietly working with Arab allies such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as with Turkey, to provide greater support to the opposition — including its armed components.”