Israel Strikes a Blow to Conventional Arab Thinking
‘Israel is still my enemy, but when my enemy does a neat job — I admit it,’ writes one Syrian commentator
The alleged Israeli strikes on Iranian missiles en route to Hezbollah in Syria over the weekend have left Arab observers conflicted; for while many have been hoping — secretly or publicly — for a decisive military strike against President Bashar Assad, few expected or indeed wished for it to come from Israel.
Until early Sunday’s strikes on military targets near Damascus, conventional wisdom within the Syrian opposition was that Israel secretly supported Assad and was preventing his ouster. A Syrian Muslim Brotherhood official told The Times of Israel last year that Israel was pressuring the US and Russia to prop up Assad. A refugee from Daraa living in Jordan argued that Israel wanted Assad in power, because losing him would mean losing the Golan Heights, captured in 1967, and destabilizing Israel’s quietest border.
Reports to the contrary did little to change this impression. It was Israel which is said to have struck Assad’s nuclear facility under construction near the northeastern city of Deir Ezzor in 2007 and, more recently, Israel reportedly killed an Iranian general en route to Lebanon on Syrian soil. Israel never officially claimed responsibility for those strikes, but former Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak told CNN as early as May 2012 that Assad’s fall would help Israel by weakening Iran and Hezbollah. Such facts never seem to confuse the skeptics, however.
As the quintessential enemy of the Arab and Islamic world, Israel must be aligned with Assad, went the logic of many domestic Assad opponents. Now, though, Israel’s apparently brazen confrontation with the Assad regime — while many Arab leaders have spent the last two years merely verbally endorsing (or secretly dreaming) of such a move — has created something of a cognitive dissonance for these oppositionists.