Editor’s note: In an interview with David Kenner of Foreign Policy magazine, Itamar Rabinovich discusses the Israeli outlook toward the Syrian uprising, and its calculation in responding to cross-border violence. Read an excerpt below and the full article at
Foreign Policy: How would a renewed confrontation along the Golan affect the Syrian uprising?
Itamar Rabinovich: I’d say Israel has very studiously refrained from intervening in this conflict, because it did not want to embarrass the opposition. Assad’s line from Day One is that this is not a genuine domestic uprising, but a plot hatched by the U.S. and Israel — and by doing anything that looks like helping the opposition, including humanitarian help, Israel would have embarrassed the opposition.
Clearly the Syrian army, in its present condition, is no match for the IDF. Israel could inflict significant punishment on them and in that way, let us say, help the rebels. But what [the rebels] would gain militarily, they would lose politically. Which may be the regime’s game.
Foreign Policy: Do you think Israeli policymakers, in their heart of hearts, want the Syrian uprising to succeed? Or are they afraid of what comes after Assad?
Rabinovich: My argument is that there was ambivalence with regards to Bashar al-Assad — we just found out recently that even Netanyahu indirectly negotiated with him in 2011, through the State Department. But after the 2006 war, following the damage that Israel sustained in Lebanon [at the hands of Assad’s ally Hezbollah], and the discovery in 2007 of the North Korean nuclear reactor [in northeastern Syria], I think that changed Israeli attitudes.
[The protests constitute] one of the most serious crises Iran has faced in the past 25 years... We now see that Iranians are willing to take profound risks to challenge the regime directly in a way we have not seen in years.