Israel’s take on Syria’s unrest

The Jerusalem Post’s Jerusalem Report has produced this interesting analysis of different Israeli Syrian experts’ views on the current Syria unrest. Not surprisingly there is the preoccupation with Iran and how the weakening or even toppling of the Baath regime would impact on Damascus’ relations with Tehran.

Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and one of the country’s leading Syria scholars, maintains that if Assad falls or is forced to endure a long period of instability, the big losers will be Iran and its proxies. “Syria is the cornerstone of the pro-Iranian axis. A weakening of Assad’s regime, not to speak of its falling, would be a heavy blow to Iran, Hizballah and Hamas,” .

Personally i think it is a bit of a red herring to focus too much on any post-Baath Syria’s international or regional relations. Obviously some in Israel hope that were Bashar to fall (and this does not seem likely right now) that whoever comes next will distance Syria from Iran. This, however, confuses regime interests with national interests.

Were the Baath to fall, whoever followed would still likely stick to two principle strands of Baathist foreign policy which are, in effect, Syria’s national interests: the return of the Golan Heights and a dominating influence in Lebanon. Unless Israel was suddenly willing to hand over Golan as a sweetener to the new Damascus regime, which is highly unlikely, any new government would maintain the state of war with Tel Aviv and seek alliances with those that confront and harass Israel in an attempt to push them to the negotiating table. Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran would still offer to fulfil that role. The western allied Sunni regional powers – notably Saudi – would be hard pressed to offer something incredibly alluring to the new regime to tempt it away completely.

In short, Golan and Lebanon will remain any Syrian government’s number one foreign policy priorities, whoever is in power, and if Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas offer the best route to achieve that, there is no reason why the alliance would be abandoned after any change of government.

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