Washington — As the days of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad increasingly look numbered, Jewish and pro-Israel activists are starting to grapple with the question of who will be in power after he’s gone — and whether they should reach out to them and how.
At this stage, sporadic contacts between Jewish activists and Syrian opposition figures are driven primarily by fear of regional instability and the possibility of proliferation of chemical weapons held by Assad. Talk of future relations between a new Syria and Jewish supporters of Israel is currently being brushed aside.
Still, some Syrian activists struggling for recognition of their fight to topple Assad recognize that their stance toward Israel may be a factor in their efforts to enlist international support.
“There are many in the opposition who believe that Israeli concerns over change in Syria are, in part at least, behind the lack of a more proactive response by the international community to the situation in Syria,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a Syrian pro-democracy activist. Abdulhamid is a fellow at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a non-partisan Washington think tank that serves as an academic home for many neo-conservative thinkers. The group has emerged as one of the key players in forging ties with the budding Syrian opposition and urging a more active U.S. role in bringing about the demise of the Assad regime.
A December 6 conference near Capitol Hill organized by FDD gave voice to those, both on the Syrian and the American side, who believe the Obama administration should get more deeply involved in shaping Syria’s future.
“The U.S. has subcontracted our diplomacy to other parties,” said FDD senior fellow John Hannah, a former foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, at the event. Rafif Jouejati, a spokeswoman for the Syrian Local Coordinating Committees, a network of opposition groups active on the ground in Syria, told listeners in the capacity-filled conference room that lack of active U.S. support for the Syrian opposition “looks to the world like support for the Assad regime.”
The Obama administration’s approach on this issue has been evolving. On December 12 the United States officially recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition, a representative body made up of rebel factions on the ground and their supporters outside Syria, thus paving the way for active American support.