The recent Israeli airstrike, whose target remains somewhat vague, has renewed the “dispute” between the supporters of the government and the opposition in Syria. The first camp has concluded that the strike was irrefutable evidence that Israel stands against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and is doing everything in its power to complement what has been initiated by the armed opposition and its allies, from Doha to Washington D.C.
The revolution camp, meanwhile, has highlighted the lack of an official Syrian response, as yet another proof that the Assad regime is in collusion with the Hebrew state, having kept the Golan front quiet since 1974 to our present day.
It is clear here that both arguments build on partially correct premises, to reach a conclusion that is challengeable and questionable.
Meanwhile, building on Israel’s supposed position to demonstrate the validity of the stance of each party is a vestige of an old political culture that is common to Arab factions when they squabble and fight. This culture has become so established and entrenched decade after decade that it has become difficult for us to make sense of the world without determining in advance where Israel stands. If it seemed for a moment that any side intersects with a move made by Israel, or benefits therefrom, the side in question will be quick to engage in denial and reinterpretation of the situation to ensure its innocence and purity are preserved.
While the opposition is drawn to this mentality of taboos with naïve loyalty to the “righteous intellectual predecessors,” the regime adopts the same mentality with clear cynicism that does not need to be exposed for the lies, deception and insults to intelligence and reality that it implies. This is in addition to the huge self-serving role played by the Syrian regime in fostering that worldview and method of judgment.
What makes this “dispute” even worse is that Israel is neither on this side nor on that side. Israel is first and foremost concerned about its narrow security interests, specifically in maintaining the front with Syria quiet and undisturbed, and preventing the transfer of chemical or advanced weapons to other actors especially Hezbollah. This is in addition to the concern about the alleged presence of al-Qaeda and similar groups along its border.
These “concerns” prompt the Israeli side to prefer weakening the regime while keeping it in place. To be sure, Israel has benefited from the continuation of the regime, especially in the Golan, not to mention the fact that the regime has been able to clamp down on any radical Islamists that Israel say trouble it. This is while weakening the regime would be sufficient to reduce its backing of its allies on the Lebanese arena.
But to say that Israel has a strategy that goes beyond these security interests and is related to the future of Syria, would entail a generosity on the side of the Israelis that experience tells us is inexistent towards the Syrians or other Arabs – exactly like we cannot assume that such a thing exists among any Arab side towards the Israelis.
This may help explain the stance of Israel and its close allies in Washington D.C. on the “need to preserve the Syrian regime,” just like it explains the painful and humiliating strikes Israel carries out, from time to time, against that regime.
What is even worse, in the utilitarian sense of the word, is that this intra-Syrian “dispute” ignores the fact that when it comes to the Syrian issue, the Israeli concerns (the borders, the chemical weapons, and al-Qaeda) represent the international common denominator on Syria. In this sense, the “dispute” preoccupying us is nothing but an effort being wasted in the wrong place.
This article was published in al-Hayat daily on Feb. 5, 2013.
Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghieh is a senior columnist and editor at al-Hayat daily. He grew up in Lebanon during the golden age of pan-Arabism. Saghieh’s vision of a united Arab world was shattered when the Israelis emerged victorious from the 1967 war. Twitter: @HazemSaghieh