Taking Sides in Syria War Is Tough Choice for Israel

Decision on Stance Highlighted in Case of Arab Israeli Who Fought Against al-Assad

Getty Images

By Reuters

Published May 03, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The dilemma Israel faces in trying to formulate a strategy on Syria two years into its civil war is symbolised by a case being heard in a small courtroom near Tel Aviv.

The state is prosecuting an Arab Israeli who briefly joined the rebel forces fighting to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

Arrested after his return to Israel, Hikmat Massarwa, a 29-year-old baker, is accused of unlawful military training, having contacts with foreign agents and traveling to a hostile state.

The trial hinges on the unanswered question of who, if anyone, Israel favours in the war and if the rebels will turn out to be friends or enemies.

The prosecutor in Lod is trying to depict Massarwa as having aligned himself with foes of Israel, but Judge Avraham Yaakov is struggling for clarity. “There’s no legal guidance regarding the rebel groups fighting in Syria,” he told a recent hearing.

Matters were simpler during the decades of unchallenged Assad family rule.

Technically Israeli is at war with its northern neighbour. It captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East War, built settlements and annexed the land. But belligerence was rare and the borderland has remained largely quiet for decades.

Assad’s Syria is part of the so-called Axis of Resistance along with Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah, both arch enemies of the Jewish state. But Syria itself avoided open conflict.

Israel was slow to welcome the uprising against Assad when it broke out in March 2011. Though some leaders now call for his overthrow, planners fret about what might follow.

“The question for us is no longer whether it is good or not if Assad stays in power, but how do we control our interests in this divided, murky situation which could last for decades,” said Ofer Shelah of the Yesh Atid party, which is part of the government coalition.

The dilemma has grown more acute since Islamist fighters linked to al-Qaeda assumed a prominent role in the rebels’ battle plans.

Israelis believe one in 10 of the rebels is a jihadi who might turn his gun on them once Assad is gone. They also worry that Hezbollah guerrillas allied to Assad could get hold of his chemical arsenal and other advanced weaponry.

So Israel has acted with restraint on Syria - shooting at its troops across the occupied Golan Heights only when hit by stray fire and playing down an Israeli airstrike on a suspected Hezbollah-bound convoy in January.

Officials say Israel has also been cool to Western proposals to increase aid to the Syrian rebels to help them match Assad’s superior armed forces.

One Israeli official told Reuters that he responds to any suggestions of a foreign military role with the question: “Do you really know on whose behalf you’ll be intervening?”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.