Laying Groundwork for Life After Syria's Assad

As Regime Teeters, Jews Mull Outreach to Rebel Fighters

Future Leaders?: With Syrian rebels close to tipping the balance against strongman Bashar al-Assad, Jews are starting to think about their next steps.
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Future Leaders?: With Syrian rebels close to tipping the balance against strongman Bashar al-Assad, Jews are starting to think about their next steps.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 01, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
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Through the U.S. Institute of Peace, the administration has been working with Syrian opposition figures outside the country in an attempt to come up with ideas for “day after” scenarios, touching on many of the issues a new Syria will have to deal with. These include maintaining the rights of the minority Alawite sect from which come Assad and many of Syria’s other top officials; setting rules for dealing with former Assad regime members, and building a democratic structure.

Notably absent from most discussions of Syria’s future is the question of its relations with Israel. During the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, Jewish groups spoke at length with Iraqi opposition figures — in particular the U.S.-based activist Ahmad Chalabi — about a new era for Israeli–Iraqi relations once Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted. But the war’s aftermath brought only disillusion on this front; Chalabi not only failed to attain supreme leadership of the country—he moved close to Iran, Israel’s most bitter adversary, in his struggle to increase his power.

Later, the Arab Spring made it clear that Arab democracy does not necessarily entail more openness to relations with Israel, at least in the absence of any progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front and other territorial disputes between Israel and its neighbors.

“The agreed line by the opposition is that the status quo in the Golan Heights will be maintained until conditions permit for organizing peace talks,” said Abdulhamid, referring to Israel’s occupation of that area since the 1967 Six Day War.

This approach could satisfy Jewish and pro-Israel groups whose focus on Syria’s future government in any event prioritizes other concerns.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a recent memo focused on the danger Israel faces from Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles and ballistic missiles, which are believed to be capable of targeting central Israel. The three talking points issued by AIPAC call for international pressure to stop human rights abuses by the Assad regime, for an end to Syria’s support for anti-Israel terror groups, and for an international drive to investigate the country’s illicit nuclear program.

These concerns echo to a great extent voices heard in Jerusalem. According to reports, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a secret visit to Jordan in December to discuss cooperation with Jordanian King Abdullah on countering the threat of Syrian chemical weapons being used by Assad or falling into the wrong hands once he’s out of office.


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