We must admit, this is the Syrian people’s finest hour. It is not our finest hour.
By Aner Shalev

What is the final number? 4,000? 5,000? How many people have to die? Is 6,000 not enough? Are 6,000 people in a country that doesn’t have a lot of oil equivalent to just 600 dead in an oil superpower? What is the determining event? Is it indiscriminate sniper fire, even at funerals? Is it the killing of children? Is it systematic tank fire on city centers? Or is it gruesome torturing to death of protestors in front of a large crowd? Or is it perhaps terror attacks staged by the regime itself in its own capital, in the grand tradition of the burning of the Reichstag?

What is the red line that if crossed will make the world say, Enough? If Syrian blood is so cheap, perhaps the injuring of Arab League observers is a red line? Or mortar fired directly at a group of foreign correspondents and the death of a French journalist? What is the exchange rate for the blood of different nationalities?

Syrian protesters - Reuters - 19012012 Syrian protesters marching in Homs in late December. A heroic uprising that Israel hopes will fail.
Photo by: Reuters

Of all the revolutions in the Arab world, the Syrian uprising is depicted as being the most impressive and heroic. In Tunisia and Egypt, the army sided with the protestors within a relatively short time and forced almost immediate regime changes that gained American support. In Libya, the struggle took longer but even from its early stages seemed like a civil war with protestors using a range of weapons and later on receiving military assistance from NATO.

In no Arab country except for Syria has such restrained protest encountered such violent suppression, so determined and so cruel. In no other Arab country have protestors been abandoned by the enlightened world like they have been in Syria. And despite the tremendous risk, the many casualties and the uncertain chance of success, these protestors go out to the streets every day, without weapons, without support, armed only with faith. Yes, it is permissible to be moved by a heroic struggle for freedom and impressive displays of courage even in an enemy country.

Less impressive is the Israeli response to events in Syria. Defense Minister Ehud Barak posed as usual as a fortune teller and predicted that Bashar Assad would fall within a few weeks. Since then many weeks have gone by and Assad is still in power and still slaughtering. In the Israeli defense establishment, however, the prevailing sentiment seems to be panic over the possibility that the struggle to obtain freedom will succeed and the Syrian regime will fall.

Chief of Staff Benny Gantz spoke of a stream of Alawite refugees potentially flooding into Israel in such a scenario, and of Israel Defense Forces preparations for such an eventuality. Gloomy predictions of the transfer of dangerous Syrian weapons to Hezbollah are being made around the clock.

It is possible to read between the lines – Israel is not interested in Assad’s downfall. Israel is secretly rooting for Assad. Israel is silently praying that the murderous Syrian dictatorship hangs on, a dictatorship that means quiet on the Golan Heights without any threat of peace. As always, Israel prefers the status quo, the world of yesterday.

The world of tomorrow does not interest us, even if it may contain possibilities and dramatic change. Perhaps the fall of Assad will actually lead to the weakening of Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon and in the entire region? Who cares? We’ll take the threats. The Syrian uprising has already prompted Hamas to move from Damascus to other Arab capitals and made it more moderate. But it seems that we prefer an extremist Hamas.

The present Israeli leadership consists of the people of yesterday, who look forward to the past, swim against the tide of history and hastily flee from any change. The familiar is preferable to what is good and right. Who knows, perhaps the stream of Alawite refugees they are predicting for us here will also include Assad and his family. If we are already rooting for Assad, why don’t we give him political asylum?

We must admit, this is the Syrian people’s finest hour. It is not our finest hour.