In an address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, Israel’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Ron Prosor, called on the international community to intervene in Syria to stop the systematic murder of civilians, breaking what has been mostly silence from Israel on the situation there.
According to Prosor, “No decent human being can ignore pictures like this. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or to what faith you belong, or what politics you preach.” He said that Bashar al-Assad and his regime “have no moral authority to govern,” but made no explicit call for the removal of Assad.
Prosor’s statement – which invoked human rights but appears to be well-rooted in Israel’s geopolitical interests – puts to bed a certain amount of nebulousness surrounding Israel’s position on the situation in Syria, which was discussed within the context of the Iranian threat at the recent Herzliya Conference on Middle East policy. According to an Al Jazeera report from the conference, despite being consistently anti-Assad, Israeli policymakers speaking at the conference “maintained a strategy of silence towards the Syrian opposition.”
Is Israel hesitant to publicly support the opposition because it prefers to do so secretly – or because a weakened and discredited Assad is in Israel’s strategic interest? The possible fall of Assad would present a panoply of unknowns for Israel. Syria is seen as a key player in the Middle East. Damascus is central to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the US-Iran conflict, and the Iraq War.
Former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy stated that Syria should be seen as a key factor in the Iranian complex. “The future of what happens in Damascus will have a major effect throughout the region, especially in terms of what this means for Iran,” implying that the collapse of the Assad regime gives Israel a leg up vis-a-vis Iran. Israel blamed Iran for recent bomb attacks in its embassies in India and Georgia.
Although Israel has not explicitly called for Assad’s removal, its attitude towards the situation in Syria is somewhat different from its position on Egypt under Mubarak before he was deposed. There, Israel did not explicitly call on the removal of Mubarak either, but had a clear interest (which it was not able to conceal well) in having Mubarak remain in power so as to keep the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups considered hostile to Israel at bay – even at the expense of continued dictatorship and lack of democracy. In the case of Syria, could Israel be cautiously optimistic that regime change could be favorable?