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Israel’s Not Protecting Assad—Obama Is

3:00 PM, May 13, 2011 • By LEE SMITH
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However, there is no evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, despite the fact that Israeli officials understand their negative assessments of Assad may affect the opposition—no Syrian protester wants to be seen as taking the same side as the Zionist entity—the government of Israel has been quite clear in its denunciations of Assad. In April, at the outset of the Syrian uprising, Israeli president Shimon Peres called for democracy in Syria. “I believe that finally a democratic system in Syria is our best bet for the future,” Peres said in Washington.

Defense minister Ehud Barak, who has long been overly optimistic about a peace process with Damascus, was the next to chime in. Haaretz reported that Barak said Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s use of force against his own people is precipitating his downfall. “I believe Assad is approaching the moment in which he will lose his authority. The growing brutality is pushing him into a corner, the more people are killed, the less chance Assad has to come out of it.”

Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said that “the world community must intervene in favor of the people of Syria.”

And most importantly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sky News, earlier this week, said, “The slaughter of citizens” is “morally wrong,” referring to Assad’s actions. “I add my voice and that of every citizens of Israel, that says this slaughter must stop now.”

I asked a veteran strategist why Israeli officials had all turned on Assad. “This idea of the devil you know is better than the one you don’t know is not relevant anymore,” he said. “If Assad survives, I don’t see any legitimacy for him. When he was strong, we thought he might switch camps and be able to do something in the peace process, but that’s over now. He has no more legitimacy after this.”

Assad, says the strategist, is a much easier call than Mubarak. “In Israel there were debates over Egypt, some dilemmas and tensions. On Mubarak’s side you had stability, also he kept the peace with us; and on the other side you had democracy and freedom, also fighting against corruption. With Syria, there are no tensions in the debate. Assad destabilized Iraq and killed your soldiers there; he destabilized Lebanon and killed Hariri; he supplies Hezbollah with weapons his father never dreamed of giving them. And Assad opposes the peace process. So what’s the big deal to keep him going?”

The strategist provides the two arguments typically produced in Assad’s favor.

First argument is that we don’t know who will replace him. Maybe it will be a Sunni Islamist regime. But that makes no sense because the Muslim Brotherhood is weak in Syria. Bashar’s father killed them all. The Syrian Brotherhood is in the diaspora. They’re very good on the web, and in social networks, but they have much less presence in Syria itself. Whoever takes over is not going to be more extreme than Bashar. They might not be pro-U.S. or pro Zionists, but while I’m not promising the next guy will be better than Bashar, the chances are that he will be better than he will be worse.

Second argument is that there will be a civil war in Syria that will make Iraq look like a picnic. The problem with this argument is that unlike Iraq, Syria has no neighbors like Syria and Iran. That’s who kept the war in Iraq hot. But look at who surrounds Syria— Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq. None of Syria’s neighbors have any interest in civil war.

Who knows why Washington policy circles are filled with the filthy rumor that it’s Israel who’s leaning on the administration to go easy on Assad? It seems some people can’t otherwise fathom why the White House refuses to hold Assad personally accountable for a death toll that is approaching 1,000. But this is an administration that was determined to engage the regime at any cost, and send an ambassador back to Damascus on a fool’s errand. Israel’s not protecting Assad; it’s the administration—it’s the president.

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