Before I get started, before anyone gets their kneejerk anti-Israel arguments loaded, let me state for the record that I think the State of Israel should never have been founded. There were other roads not taken at the time, but that subject’s for an alternate history book I’ll probably never get around to writing. The fact is that Israel does exist, and there are some very good reasons why American military intervention in Syria is not in Israel’s rational national interest. Those reasons are what this post is about.
Bashar al-Assad has never been a friend of Israel, but he has been a predictable, rational, and stable enemy. Unlike his father, Hafez al-Assad, he has never actually gone to war with Israel, and has never done anything that seriously threatened Israel’s existence. In fact, he’s actually done some things that were in Israel’s long term interests because of who and what he is.
Assad’s a secularist. He’s always been an enemy to Islamists who wish to establish theocratic Islamic states based on fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran, and who would like nothing better than a war to drive the Jewish Crusader state into the sea just like one of my personal historical heroes, Saladin, did almost a thousand years ago. For a good, mostly historically accurate portrayal of that story, I recommend watching Kingdom of Heaven, with the great Syrian actor Ghassan Massoud in the role of Saladin. He brought the wily old Kurdish general to life. But I digress.
Assad is first and foremost a Syrian nationalist. His primary goal has always been the preservation of Syria as one country, under his leadership of course, and that goal isn’t an easy one given all of the different ethnic, tribal and religious groups that comprise the Syrian population. His politically iron-fisted rule has prevented discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities for the most part(the Kurds being the notable exception), including Christians, various small Islamic sects, and agnostics. You can legally drink alcohol in Syria. Try doing that in Saudi Arabia or Iran.
He’s usually opposed any movement that would destabilize either Syria or Lebanon and allow them to serve as a launching pad for wars that would suck Syria and Israel into direct conflict, and never hesitated to employ Syrian troops, when necessary, to enforce that policy. For example, an Israeli settler in the Golan Heights once pointed to a Syrian flag in a Frontline story, and said, “See that flag? That’s the flag of our enemy. But I know what that enemy will do and will not do. But there are worse enemies. We are still here, you see.”
Oh, there have been incidents, but only incidents, not full scale war. If anything, usually it is the Israelis who are the aggressors, not the Syrians, and the Israelis know this deep down in their souls even if they won’t admit it publicly.
For Israel and its supporters, there are far worse enemies than Bashar al-Assad and Syria. Just go to the AIPAC website if you don’t believe me. They’re far more concerned about Iran than they are Syria. And they should be.
Which, finally, dear patient reader, brings me to the point. American military intervention on the side of the rebels in Syria can trigger several things, all of which are Not Good for Israel. First, it really could provoke Assad into firing missiles into Israel, which could kill Israelis. Second, it could provoke Iran into firing missiles into Israel which could kill Israelis. Neither one is good as far as the Israelis are concerned, but in the end, they are still minor considerations.
American military intervention could have the end result of the fall of the Assad regime, which could be replaced by some sort of Islamic Republic, governed not necessarily from Shia Tehran, which is at least somewhat rational. Noooo, it could be one dominated by Sunni fanatics like the Salafists and Al-Qaeda. These are the groups being generously funded by the wackos in Qatar and Riyadh, our so-called “friends,” who would like nothing better than to launch a Holy War against Israel, and who would be perfectly willing to fight Israel to the death with the lives of every last Palestinian Arab, whose exploited counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates pose an existential class threat to every single one of those oil-rich feudal regimes.
Israel didn’t do too well when it invaded southern Lebanon the last time and ran into Hezbollah. Gaza is still giving it fits. Imagine a new, well-financed Intifada backed by direct military force from a populous Islamic Republic of Syria. Imagine an Israeli invasion and attempted occupation of Syria in perceived self-defense. A war getting out of control and sucking in Iran and the United States. And what would Egypt do? Who knows? The cooperative Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan next door could go under and be replaced by, again, who knows? A LOT of people, including Israelis, would die, and how long would it be before revulsion in America results in a new isolationism, and America hangs Israel out to dry? Again, who knows?
For Israel, the question of whether or not America should intervene in Syria has a simple answer: Better the devil you know. And THAT argument might be just strong enough to sway Congress.
Image by W123 under Creative Commons license