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Israel's Political Agenda (II) - Syria

Published on 11 April 2013, by M. Tomazy.
"Although the imminent overthrow of Bashar al-Assad has been forecast almost from the outbreak of the uprising against him in March 2011, developments in late 2012 suggest that the opposition campaign is rapidly gaining momentum. Inherent in the downfall of Assad’s regime would be a shift in regional alignments that could potentially work to Israel’s advantage. Given the history of Iranian support for the Alawite dominated Ba’th regime, and given that the “politics of identity,” especially Sunni-Shi’ite tensions, have increasingly set their stamp on developments in the Levant for at least a decade, it is highly probable
that a post-Assad Syria would abandon its close links with Iran and its support (and facilitation of Iranian support) for Hizballah in Lebanon. The weakening of the Iranian-led “axis of resistance” would be a gain
of major proportions in the Israeli strategic calculus.At the same time, both the process and the aftermath of
regime change might well mitigate the value of this gain. For example, the incremental disintegration of central authority could result in the proliferation of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks, either because they were deliberately transferred to Hizballah or because they were captured by opposition militias whose identities and command-and-control systems are something of a mystery. Moreover, Syria after Assad might suffer prolonged instability and chaos, allowing non-state actors to exploit a power vacuum in frontier regions to accumulate weapons and launch attacks against Israel, as has happened in Sinai. Finally, the growing prominence of radical Islamists in the ranks of the Syrian opposition – though perhaps exaggerated for propaganda purposes by the regime – raises the possibility that if such forces take power in whatever Syrian political order eventually emerges, they will be just as inclined as Assad to confront Israel (though in competition with Iran rather than in cooperation with), but perhaps with much less risk-aversion and sensitivity to costs. One might even note, for the sake of completeness, the more remote possibility that a stable, liberal regime committed to peace would quickly emerge in Syria, implying considerable pressure on Israel to renew the negotiations about the Golan Heights, an idea that some Israelis likely to be represented in Israel’s next government will find distinctly unpalatable. None of these scenarios can be reasonably considered as foreordained, but neither can they be categorically dismissed. That illustrates the complexity and uncertainty of the Syrian dimension of Israel’s agenda, and especially the reality that just as possible risks may also imply opportunities, so, too, a potentially significant strategic advantage might be neutralized by counter-developments whose probability is not negligible."

Mark Heller, published through the Israeli  Institute for National Security Studies (INSS)