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Dr Musa A Keilani: Waging war in debates
March 06, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

There is an ongoing debate among Israelis over the anti-regime uprising in Syria, with participants saying that the world is not doing anything about the carnage against the Syrian people by security forces loyal to the government. Caught in the debate is the Arab World, with many Israelis using the opportunity to thrash the Arabs accusing them of doing nothing to help the Syrian people.

That argument is for argument’s sake only because many others point out that the Arab League has not only condemned the crackdown but also has sought UN intervention to check the killing of Syrians. They ask how those actions could be described as silence and inaction.

Some say that Israel should be rejoicing that a regime hostile to it is being dismantled. Others say that the Jewish state should be worried that the Muslim Brotherhood will take power in Syria as and when the regime of President Bashar Al Assad is toppled. They point out that the Muslim Brotherhood replaced the regime of Israel-friendly Hosni Mubarak, that Hamas is dominant in the Gaza Strip and Hizbollah is the most powerful group in Lebanon.

There is indeed strong condemnation of the Syrian crackdown in the Israeli media. A typical comment appearing in cyberspace was: “The eye doctor who studied and was educated in Europe, and appeared like a civilised man when he took power in Syria, has been exposed as a brutal, blood-thirsty dictator ordering his loyalists to massacre the rivals of his regime of horrors.”

Some commentators also blast China and Russia for having blocked a UN Security Council resolution on the crisis.

While many Israelis believe that the conflict in Syria is in favour of their country’s interests, others warn that a new regime in Damascus could be unpredictable. The latter say they fear an Islamist takeover of Syria that could upset the truce that the current regime has been maintaining on the Golan Heights.

Israelis also worry that a collapse of the Assad regime could nudge Lebanon’s Hizbollah to consolidate its power so that the loss of the Syrian ally would not bring pressure to bear upon it to surrender its weapons and dismantle its fighting forces.

It is known that the Israeli military is on high alert on its borders with Lebanon and on the Golan Heights to face the fallout of the Syrian crisis.

Israeli commentator Guy Bechor argues that the conflict in Syria, coupled with the international sanctions against Iran in the nuclear dispute, could spell the end of Hizbollah as it exists today. He states that Tehran is not in a position to maintain its flow of funds to Hizbollah and that without money the Lebanese group will be sunk.

“The economic oxygen supply that arrived from Iran and kept Hizbollah alive is drying up,” writes Bechor. “Iran faces the economic threat of paralysing sanctions, its regime is on the defensive, and it has no money for adventures on the Lebanese front. This means that Hizbollah has no money to pay salaries and fund projects.”

According to Bechor, Israel need not fear any cross-border Hizbollah action in a bid to divert attention from the Syrian conflict because there could be no such diversion, given the intensity of the conflict in Syria and the level of pressure being applied on Iran to dismantle its nuclear enrichment programme. Furthermore, Israel is seen as waiting for an opportunity to hit at Hizbollah and destroy it as revenge for the humiliating defeat it suffered in the war of the summer of 2006 with the Lebanese group.

Israel should also see Hizbollah’s armed presence in south Lebanon across the Israeli border as a boon, Bechor argues. Hizbollah’s “control in southern Lebanon is convenient for Israel,” he says. “The Shiite Hezbollah maintains the area’s stability, prevents Sunni groups such as Al Qaeda and Global Jihad from operating there, and also prevents Palestinian groups from reaching the border with Israel.”

Bichor is against any Israeli intervention in Lebanon or Syria.

“Israel has no interest in intervening in any way whatsoever, neither in Lebanon nor in Syria,” he writes. “Hizbollah’s trouble vis-à-vis the Middle East’s Sunnis and vis-à-vis Syria are its own business, and this is how it should be.”

Well, what not many Israelis say is that they hope for a disintegration of post-revolt Syria into “pockets of influence” controlled by armed groups at conflict with each other, as is the case in post-rebellion Libya. For, as along as Syria remains destabilised and disintegrated, Israel benefits.

The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman.

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