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

(page 2 of 2)

MIXED MESSAGES

But with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presiding over a new, right-leaning coalition and the Israeli military stretched by keeping vigil over several fronts - including Islamist-ruled Egypt - the message has been far from uniform.

Netanyahu may have contributed to this by framing Iran and its nuclear programme as Israel’s overriding regional concern, bolstering the case for removing Tehran’s ally Assad.

When an Israeli intelligence analyst said last week that Assad’s forces had used chemical weapons, both the Netanyahu government and its foreign allies were blindsided, according to officials.

Washington confirmed the Israeli assessment, thus posing a problem for U.S. President Barack Obama, who had said use of chemical arms would be a “red line”.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister urged U.S. action in Syria - a call slapped down by more senior figures.

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, said it was not making any policy recommendations to Obama on Syria.

“We think this issue is very complex,” he told Reuters.

Several officials said Israel would be unlikely to attack Syria unilaterally unless it had evidence that chemical weapons had been handed over to Hezbollah.

Lacking enough of the specialised ground troops that would be needed for a search-and-destroy sweep of chemical weapons, Israel would probably have to rely on aerial bombing.

The Netanyhau government might even acquiesce if the rebels acquire the chemical weapons, on the assumption that the insurgents were mainstream Syrians keen to rebuild their country and loath to invite catastrophic war with Israel.

“If the jihadis get the chemical weapons, that’s very bad, but there’s still the hope that these people lack the hard-core military wherewithal, and required technical support in Syria, that would be required to use them,” one Israeli official said.

Indeed, Israeli planners are debating to what extent the radical Sunni Islamists fighting Assad could eventually constitute a direct threat to Israel.

The chief military spokesman, Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai, sounded the alarm last month by saying the “Global Jihad” - meaning al Qaeda and its affiliates - wielded the most clout on the Syrian-held side of the Golan Heights.

Other Israeli authorities are more optimistic. The Mossad intelligence agency estimates that Syria’s entrenched secularism will dilute enmity to Israel, according to one official.

“The Islamists there aren’t all Salafists, and the Salafists aren’t all al Qaeda, by any means,” the official said.

“We may not make peace, but I think we might find some kind of dialogue, if only for the sake of mutual deterrence.”

Israel has given no indication that it already has contacts with Syria’s opposition. But it has coordinated closely on security with Jordan, a supporter of some rebel factions.

Back in Judge Yaakov’s courtroom, the fate of Massarwa, who faces a maximum of 15 years in jail if convicted, rests on whether the state can prove there is danger to Israel from the Free Syrian Army unit he stayed with for a week in March.

Massarwa’s lawyer, Helal Jaber, hopes the logic of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” will win clemency for his client, who went to Syria via Turkey in search of a missing brother who had separately joined the rebels.

“The greatest democracies in the world, including the United States, are supporting the opposition to Assad,” Jaber said. “So how can Israel fault someone for doing the same?”


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!
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • 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.