Some subtle issues are coming out of the Syrian civil war regarding Israel: clearly, Israel is neutral regarding the war; it won’t get dragged into it; and the longer the war continues the better, as long as it doesn’t damage Israeli national security.
It should be equally clear, however, that in the end Israel wants the rebels to win.
Syria’s regime is supported by Hizballah, Iran, and the Assad government — they are the greater of the two evils. The coup against Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood regime greatly reduced the threat from Sunni Islamism; that threat is smaller compared to Iran. It should be underlined, however, that the difference isn’t perceived as huge.
Following are several other aspects of the Syrian situation affecting Israel:
With Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood thrown out of office, Hamas poses much less of a threat. Instead of having Egypt as a patron, Egypt is now a greater enemy than it was under Mubarak. This breaks up the issue of an aligned Brotherhood Egypt, Hamas, and Syria.
The transformation of Israel’s strategy almost approaches that following the victory of the 1967 war, except this is not a victory over Egypt but rather a tremendous enhancement of cooperation. The threat of the dissolution of the peace treaty and a potential new war has been replaced by a prospect of deeper peace and more strategic help.
The draining of terrorist resources and energies
Syria is now a target along with Iraq for Sunni terrorists; Egypt, too.
The Golan Heights
Israel will not exit the strategic Golan for “forever.” With either Sunni or Shia extremists in charge of Syria, the anti-Israel stance of Syria is going to be strong under any conceivable government.
At the same time, that Syrian government will be weaker than it was. The United States is in temporary or permanent eclipse and cannot possibly — and will not — exercise major leverage on Syria. You can bet that without a utopian transformation of the region, Israel will remain in the Golan.
It seems equally clear that Hizballah support from the Lebanese, Syria, Sunni Islamist leaders, and others has been very much reduced. Given this situation, Hizballah cannot attack Israel, certainly not while its best troops are tied down in Syria.
And if the rebels win in Syria, they will then take on Hizballah, while also supporting Lebanese Sunni Islamists. Hizballah will be too busy fighting against fellow Arabs to start a war with Israel.
This is the best moment for Kurds politically in modern history: they have a ceasefire with Turkey and its help in Syria; a de facto state in northern Iraq, though it will not be a full-fledged state; and autonomy in Syria. Central and southern Iraq are booming with terrorism, but Kurdistan (the Kurdish Regional Government) is booming with prosperity.
The fact is that the Kurds do not share in the Arab blood feud with Israel. In both Iraq and Syria, the Kurds want good relations and commerce with Israel. Whether the dealings would be overt or covert, this new political relationship is going to be a significant factor in the Middle East.