The war in Syria is also a concern for Israel, and its results may be as significant as the October 1973 war. The fall of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime could change the political map and perhaps threaten the existing balance of power formulated after the disengagement agreement signed by President Hafez Al-Assad and Israel, under Henry Kissinger’s auspices, during the October war.
Syria is the second largest neighboring country to Israel after Egypt, and despite the Golan Height’s stability, Syria has never signed a peace treaty—citing Lebanon as a factor in its decision—and is the only neighboring country with a sizeable arsenal of chemical and biological weapons.
During the first year of the Syrian revolution, Israelis did not believe that Assad’s resilient regime would collapse. However, since early last year, the Israelis have begun believe that Assad’s fall is now inevitable. With the Syrian president’s downfall, the Israelis will lose a “wise enemy” and a loyal guard, but just as strong as their fear is their growing appetite to influence the final result.
With the fall of Bashar Assad, Israel fears the unknown and as a result is keenly monitoring what is happening on the war fronts in Syria on a daily basis. These Israeli concerns alone are justified and expected, but it would be going too far to attempt to redraw the Syrian map. I do not think that it would be erroneous to say that Israel supports the idea of establishing an Alawite state that Assad is planning along the Mediterranean coast, or several other mini-states for that matter. Israel does not care about a civil war inside Syria, but rather encourages it, and a war between the Syrians would be expected if Assad tried to fragment the country and take over a particular region.
Israel is always interested in preoccupying its Arab neighbors in civil wars, and it is surely interested in dismantling Syria into small Kurdish, Alawite, Christian, Druze and Sunni mini-states. But isn’t Israel afraid of the presence of Al-Qaeda in a collapsed Syria? The idea itself is scary but Al-Qaeda is the bogeyman of the West, not Israel. Al-Qaeda has avoided confrontation with the Israelis despite its numerous anti-Semitic rants. Israel knows that none of Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, or even the previous Palestinian red factions such as Abu Nidal and the Popular Front, are threatening its security; they are merely a nuisance. The balance of power is always in Israel’s favor as the Jewish state always wins the war in the end. Israel has fortified itself through building secure borders; it has constructed a long fence separating it off from the West Bank and will build a similar structure with Egypt. It will also build the “Great Wall of Israel” in the Golan Heights, separating it from Syria.
Tel Aviv has not released any information or suggestion regarding the situation in Syria, but we know that this is the most serious affront on its borders and that it directly affects Israeli security. Therefore, it is impossible for Israel to stand still, but little has been said so far. However, after his return from Russia, Israeli president Shimon Peres previously said that the Israelis were against any form of foreign military intervention but would support the proposal to send Arab troops to enforce peace in Syria. Peres certainly knows that international intervention would take one week to topple Assad’s regime, whereas Arab intervention would make the war last for years. The absurd notion of sending Arab troops—also recommended by Arab League—doesn’t identity which Arab troops in particular, or how they would be sent.
I imagine that Israel has influenced Western and Russian stances in dealing with the events in Syria. It is probably behind the decline in their interest and threats towards the Assad regime. For the Israelis, there are four possibilities to end the Syrian tragedy: Firstly, the regime could fall with an alternative, exhausted ruling system being established by the opposition in its place, on what remains of Syria’s destroyed and scorched land. The second possibility is for the regime to fall while the civil war continues and without a strong central government to replace it, in a manner similar to Somalia. The third possibility is that Assad and his entourage will flee to the coast and declare the establishment and annexation of an Alawite mini-state, thus ensuring the continuation of inter-Syrian conflict. The final possibility, which is unlikely to happen, is that the situation will remain as it is and Assad will stay in Damascus while the opposition fight against him; with no visible end to the deadlock.
All of these possibilities would serve Israel. The only option that would have been contrary to Israeli interests was the proposal of international intervention a year ago, overthrowing Assad’s regime and establishing a new one based on democracy with international support. Israel knows that this would have made Syria a stronger neighbor, given that it has a population three times larger than Israel’s and especially if its regime were endorsed by a popular mandate.