Syria is ablaze and we cannot predict at this point how the fire will finally be put out.
We may still be months away from the point of decision there, although even Bashar Assad’s most loyal proxy — Hamas — has already turned against him in public, choosing conveniently to make the first such statement to a Norwegian newspaper.
Israel, of course, has a huge stake in the outcome: We want the Assad mafiosi clan out of power, together with their 32-year old alliance with Iran. We want to hear more of Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah’s rhetorical acrobatics as he fears for Hezbollah’s prospects and goes as far as assuring his Lebanese (and Israeli?) listeners that he is not going to automatically lob missiles into Israel once Iran’s nuclear installations are attacked.
But Israel is not taking an official stand, with Prime Minister Netanyahu keeping to the sidelines of the Syrian crisis, refraining from stating that Israel would indeed prefer to see Assad go. Only a small crowd of protesters demonstrated last Saturday in front of the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv.
The reasons for this cautious restraint are obvious: Israel does not want to give Assad any pretext to export the bloodshed across the Golan ceasefire line. Everybody in Jerusalem is aware of the ominous threats issued by Assad’s cronies to light up a “regional” conflict. We do not need the civil war up north developing into a war with us.
Still, since there seems to be an agreement in Israel that we prefer the devil we do not know to the one we have come to know so well, there are certain measures that should be seriously contemplated:
• Israel has to scream from the rooftops that we fully support the transformation of the Syrians from mere obedient subjects to real citizens; that we sympathise with the popular desire to see the collapse of the hated internal security organizations; that Israel would be willing to contribute to any international effort to offer humanitarian assistance to the destroyed cities of Homs, Idlib, Zabadany, etc.
Unlike Egypt or Tunisia, Syria is not necessarily destined to fall under a Moslem Brotherhood regime
• Israel should — and it is definitely not impossible — establish quiet channels to some different factions and personae amongst the fragmented opposition groupings. Having maintained for years contacts with quite a few of them, I have reached the conclusion that unlike Egypt or Tunisia, Syria is not necessarily destined to fall under a Moslem Brotherhood regime, although Islamists are certainly key players in the current uprising.
• Using its long-standing contacts to the Druze community, Israel could try to encourage the inhabitants of Suweida Province (The Druze Mountain) in Southern Syria to throw their lot against Assad. So far the Druze have been hesitant to pick sides, but once they do, it will have an enormous impact on the attitude of other important minorities — Christians, Kurds, Ismailis, Circassians.
• Israeli intelligence agencies possess huge amounts of detailed quality data on the Assad killing machine — they know who gives orders to whom and how; they know what the instructions are and how are they carried out. This is information that is highly incriminating and embarrassing to Assad.
Some of these treasures can be leaked without risking valuable intelligence assets. Remember the famous telephone conversation between President Nasser of Egypt and King Hussein of Jordan which was made public by the IDF during the 1967 war? There are many buyers for good stuff — let us start unclassifying a few samples and passing them to the proper non-Israeli media outlets!
For too many years, especially after the traumas of the 1982 Lebanon War, Israel has adopted the bystander posture, avoiding involvement or even taking positions on major events in our environment. It is high time for a more dynamic role which first of all requires Bibi to do something — and ASAP — about the fact that Israel no longer possesses the means to talk directly to our neighbors: There is no real television in Arabic, no real radio in Arabic that can be heard all over the area, not even a single pro-Israeli newspaper or news website in Arabic.