Dara’a Syria - Reuters  - 22.3.2011
Dara’a, Syria, March 22, 2011. Photo by Reuters
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The Israel Defense Forces is readying for the possibility that Syria might create a provocation along the northern border to divert attention from the growing protests against President Bashar Assad's regime. Nevertheless, the defense establishment views this as unlikely.

Defense officials have been following events in Syria closely over the last few days, especially after the violence in the southern town of Daraa. Intelligence officials said that despite their earlier assessments that the Syrian regime was stable, and that the unrest sweeping other Arab countries would not affect it, they now believe it will be very hard for Assad to restore the status quo ante.

The IDF is also preparing for the possibility that Damascus might use Hezbollah or other militant organizations in Lebanon to heat up that front to divert attention from events in Syria. But one senior officer said that Assad and his people appear to be too busy suppressing the domestic unrest to have time for that. So for now, most preparations are at the intelligence level, and there is currently no plan to beef up IDF forces along the border.

The defense establishment attributes the unrest in Syria mainly to the country's poor economic situation and the feeling that the government isn't doing enough to improve ordinary people's quality of life, being more concerned with enriching the Assad family's cronies.

President Shimon Peres, who toured the northern border with senior IDF officials yesterday, echoed this view.

"We're always talking about politics, but the reality is that Syria is a very poor country with a very low standard of living and [high] unemployment," he told soldiers. "The moment the younger generation opens its eyes - and it has many means by which to do so, like Facebook - someone has to provide answers to this. That's the problem of the entire Arab world: to escape from poverty, to escape from oppression."

Referring to what he heard in his briefings from senior officers, Peres added, "The Iranians are investing $1 billion a year to bolster Hezbollah, at a time when there is unemployment and poverty in Iran. It would be one thing if they wanted to improve the masses' situation, but they only seek to strengthen the Shi'ites in Lebanon. They have only one goal."