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Rubin Reports

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 The threat of the dissolution of the peace treaty and a potential new war has been replaced by a prospect of deeper peace and more strategic help.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.

The Kurds

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.

The Druze

The Druze have a tougher time since they do not have a strategic boundary with a friendly country, as do the Kurds. Nevertheless, the Druze are at a historical turning point. They have given their loyalty to the Syrian regime, with the Golani Druze showing special devotion fueled largely by fear that some day the Golan would be returned to Syria.

Now, however, they see the Assad regime in trouble. At this point their loyalty must be questioned. Would a Sunni Islamist regime be so kind to them? On the one hand, the Druze have served not with the rebels, but with the regime. Second, when all is said and done the Druze are infidels, and even worse, apostates, as they were Muslims centuries ago. Of course, the Druze still in Syria will claim their devotion to the Sunni Islamist regime in the hope of not being massacred.

Druze from the Golan have asked Israeli authorities about bringing in refugees from Syria. Might persecuted Druze take Israeli citizenship and take the step of joining their fate as individuals or collectively with Israel, as their cousins across the border did in 1948?


Obviously, if the regime loses in Syria that will weaken Iran. But there’s something more here — if Iran loses the civil war, they lose any chance of Tehran bidding for Arab hegemony, which would be futile because the split between Sunni and Shia is so bloody and passionate.

Of course, if Iran wins the bitterness has the same effect. The dominant conflict in the region is now the Sunni-Shia one.

With Middle East hegemony out of Iran’s reach, Iran has less reason to threaten Israel or to consider using nuclear weapons against it. Why would Tehran do so when it will not impress the Arabs anyway, and while Tehran is in the middle of an all-out battle with the Sunni Arabs?

The Christians

While Israel only has about a two percent Christian minority (about 150,000 people), there seems to be some change. A priest and a young woman have spoken for support despite harassment, and an Arab Christian party is forming. These will probably not catch on with large numbers of people, but with the conflict against Israel being joined by the conflict against Christian Arabs — including real intimidation of Christians on the West Bank by Muslims — this must have some effect.

This has been added to by a war on Christians in Egypt (Copts will be big targets in the coming Islamist insurgency, and the new government won’t provide much protection), Syria, Iraq, and the Gaza Strip. Where else do Christians have a safe haven in he region besides Israel?

Finally, Syria has done something momentous in regional terms. It has broken the myth of the “Israel card,” or of “linkage,” the idea that the “Arab-Israeli conflict” (perhaps we should start putting it in quotation marks) is the prime problem, passionate priority, and always the key to solving the Middle East.You can’t still argue that an Arab ruler can make political capital by blaming Israel, or that solving the Arab-Israeli or Israel-Palestinian conflict will fix everything in the region.

Given the peculiarities of Western diplomacy, this doesn’t seem to put too much of a dent in “linkage” — lots of people in the West believe this idea. Surely it must be fewer, though still too widespread due to misinformation, diplomatic interests, and misunderstanding of the Middle East.

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All Comments   (23)
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I have been warning about this since these events began-

The problem with academics is they are a self perpetuating lot. They only listen to someone if the speaker has a pile of letters after the last name.

Assad has always been the better choice. Another historic opportunity lost.

If not for Putin Syria would have an Al Qaida regime today.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Israel is the bedrock of all related global, political disputes in the world. Apart from it are outright ' side-dishes.' One expert analysis of world affairs never divorces from the divine attachment of Israel with the Holy Writ and these are emerging as finally true and accurate vis-a-vis pure speculations or assumptions. Be blessed, Prof Barry, your writings are guided from Above.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As a regular reader of Barry's column I find this post like switching a stock chart from a daily view to a yearly view - suddenly how the region is doing long term pops out at the viewer. Barry does a quick take on many of the vexed issues - it isn't a post using detailed argument as it is a quick overview of what he feels are critical changes in key areas - how events are effecting the Kurds, the Druze, the Christians and of course Israel. I hope he will develop the assertion that relations with Egypt will improve. He has been pretty prescient on Egypt over the past year! Likewise the Kurds as a potential ally of Israel. They seem to be the main group who are getting their act together economically. But the big thing you see on the long term chart is that the Arabs Muslims are in a steep downtrend. They are killing each other and not taking care of themselves - agriculture is in trouble in both Egypt and Syria. The solution is better agriculture, not killing each other. If the Egyptian military was threatening to bomb the Ethiopian Nile dam I would see them as rational actors. As in getting it that less water means less food. So Barry has brought it to our attention that is is a time of major change in the strategic relations among the regional players. Perhaps one of those shatter belts in history where realties are fluid and realign. .
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
NIce to not have to worry about the Christians and other minorities in Syria. Assad is a rat but he does not out to exterminate the ancient Christian community.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Looking forward to your forecast on the various Bedouin wildcard 'activities'.

As for Saudi Arabia re: Iran? The Saudis have Pakistan, and now Egypt.
Besides, less than 50% of Iran's population are Persian Shi'a. No other country has more minority populations (Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis, various Arab or Sunni minoriteis) officially seeking self-determination/autonomy.

The Druze should get a state, become Andorra off the Golan...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I highly doubt Iran is going to stop their efforts to produce nuclear weapons simply because they've lost Syria - an outcome that may or may not manifest itself. Not one mention in this article about Saudi Arabia which I find interesting. The Saudis continue to wring their hands over the prospects of Iran getting nukes yet sit on their asses and do nothing. They are better positioned geographically than Israel to strike Iran's nuclear facilities - they have good reasons and the means to conduct the mission yet all they do is look to the USA. Do they have the guts to do the deed? I doubt it. As before they'll let anyone - including Israel - do the dirty work. It would not surprise me if the Obama administration gave or sold bunker busting bombs to the Saudis if they requested them. The political fallout to the Saudis for attacking Iranian nuclear facilities would be much less severe than it would be for the USA or Israel IMO.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Dr. Rubin, I'm very surprised that you have so little to say about Egypt. Do you view the Islamists as fully defeated? There was substantial violence in the days following the deposing of Morsi and the possibility of a civil war between pro-Morsi and anti-Morsi factions seems entirely possible. Frankly, I'm surprised it has not broken out overtly already. In such a situation, Morsi and his supporters could potentially prevail, especially if they could persuade the Egyptian military to come over to their side, in whole or in a part. But you're much closer to the situation and have many contacts there so perhaps this is not possible in your view.

Even if the new transitional government survives, which I hope is the case, it's too early to say what the next government will be like or how the Egyptian Constitution will change. How can we be sure that it won't retain a very similar Islamist flavor or even a stronger one? How can we be sure that the Muslim Brotherhood and/or their Salafist compatriots won't get even MORE votes this next time around and push Egypt further toward an Islamist republic?

Assuming for the moment that the transitional government is soon replaced by a moderate secular sort of government and the constitutional changes strengthen secularism, how will Egypt get along with Israel? Will they dare go actually be friendly to Israel? Or is an anti-Israel sentiment strong even among the most secular of the Egyptians?

I wonder if this might be a very good time for Israel to reach out to the Egyptians with gestures that would indicate genuine good will to their Arab neighbors? I'm thinking here of things like shipments of food or fresh water or assistance with constructing desalinization plants? As I understand it, both food and fresh water are in increasingly short supply in Egypt. If Israel was to help with that, I wonder if that might get at least some Egyptians thinking that Israel isn't quite so bad as they think?

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oops. This sentence - "Will they dare go actually be friendly to Israel?" - should have said "Will they dare to be genuinely friendly to Israel?".
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
American Children of Israel - as Obama's "foreign policy" aka: hug a jihadi, any jihadi, while spitting in BOTH Israel's and America's faces deteriorates, Israel's security position is enhanced. How much more proof do you guys need?

Remember BENGHAZI!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What is said about the youths in Egypt that played a role in the toppling of Morsi, here is interesting.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Druze from the Golan have asked Israeli authorities about bringing in refugees from Syria. Might persecuted Druze take Israeli citizenship and take the step of joining their fate as individuals or collectively with Israel, as their cousins across the border did in 1948?

I have a lot of sympathy for the Druze, but their sympathy for us is limited. If a limited number of Druze, say 50-150,000, will need refuge I will welcome this addition to Israel. However, Israel cannot become the safe haven for all the Druze in the Middle East (2-4 million people by different estimations, most of which live in Syria and Lebanon) because together with the Muslims, considering both have pretty high birth rates, we will quickly become a minority in Israel that will always depend on Arab whim and mercy, or lack thereof.

During the 1967 war Yigal Alon, a great Druze lover, suggested we continue from the Golan Heights and conquer Jabal al Druze too, then give them both to the Druze to form their own state, but nothing came out of it. Don't think the Druze would have agreed back then. Now that opportunity is lost unless the new Islamic Republic of Syria, if that ever happens, will be stupid enough to attack both Israel and the Druze.

Some years ago someone in a Druze forum (not the most reliable source of information, of course) claimed that according to their tradition the Jews will one day liberate them. Don't know if it's true, haven't heard it anywhere else, but it gave me goose bumps. It may actually happen some day.

As for the Christians, well, as I see it the only solution for religious and national/ethnic minorities in the Middle East is that everyone will get their own state, and then for all those states to ally with each other to defend themselves against the Muslim Arab aggressors. A state gives you the ability to militarilly defend yourself against pogroms, the possibility to live according to your own rules and develop your own culture, and a greater control of your destiny. But this ain't gonna happen because except the Kurds they're all cowards, and the West will not support it. The West is deeply invested in the Muslim Arabs.

Besides, the West has this strange hallucination about random collections of minorities living side by side in peace and harmony forever and ever more, and to fulfill this, err, unusual vision they invite millions of Muslims to create their little stans in their midst, so they can never understand why would anyone want to stay away from Muslims, unless that someone is a belligerent Islamophobe. After all, it's only a tiny minority of extremists who murder Christians right and left and burn down their houses, businesses and churches, so obviously any fear of Muslims, 99.99% of which are peaceful, tolerant multiculturalists, can only be a phobia. And that pretty much seals the fate of Middle Eastern Christianity. No one will save them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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