The Arab Revolution Is Knocking at Israel's Door

For Israel, the risk that Syria President Bashar Assad would undermine calm of northern border less threatening than prospect of him toppled; Israel blames Assad and Iran for border infiltration on Nakba Day.

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

The Arab revolution knocked on Israel's door yesterday, in Nakba Day demonstrations carried out by Palestinians from Syria and Lebanon in Majdal Shams and in Marour al-Ras. The demonstrators entering the Druze village in the foothills of Mount Hermon shattered the illusion that Israel can live comfortably, a "villa in the jungle," cut off entirely from the dramatic events surrounding it.

More than the revolution in any other Arab country, the uprising against the Assad regime in Syria has threatened to spill over into Israel. President Bashar Assad hoped that his position as the leader of the "opposition" to Israel would save him from the fate of his counterparts in Tunisia and Egypt. When his seat became unstable, there was concern that Assad, or whoever replaces him, would try to escalate the conflict with Israel in order to regain legitimacy among the Syrian public and the Arab world at large.

Television stills capture protests in Majdal Shams, after hundreds reportedly infiltrated from Syria on Nakba Day, May 15, 2011.

But the risk that Assad would undermine the calm and stability on the northern border was seen by Israel as less threatening than the prospect that he could be toppled. For that reason, Israel refrained from intervening in support of the uprising against him. The IDF could have deployed a large force on the Golan Heights out of "fear of escalation," and thereby diverted the Syrian army to the other side of the border, away from the protesters in Daraa and Homs. But instead, Israel adopted a policy of sitting still and letting Assad suppress the uprising in the hope that deterrence and stability be preserved.

This calm was disturbed yesterday and the nightmare scenario Israel has feared since its inception became real - that Palestinian refugees would simply start walking from their camps toward the border and would try to exercise their "right of return." Israel prepared for demonstrations of Nakba Day in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, in the Galilee and the Triangle, but instead it was the Palestinian diaspora that tried to climb its fences. More than an intelligence lapse, the situation highlighted the limits of power. It is impossible to control the whole arena and spread forces everywhere. There is always a spot that remains unprotected and one's rival can exploit it.

Israel was quick to blame Assad and, as usual, also Iran, for dispatching "Syrian and Lebanese rabble-rousers," according to the IDF spokesman, "in order to divert attention from the crushing of demonstrations in Syria."

But it is hard to imagine that Israeli policy in the north will change, and that Israel would try to heat up the border as a response in order to assist in toppling Assad and to replace him with a more convenient regime. Israel will try to ensure this remain an isolated incident and to restore calm in the area.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to use the incident up north to strengthen his public relations campaign in Washington. As far as he's concerned, this is further proof that Israel is confronted by forces bent on its destruction.

"This is not a struggle over the 1967 borders," Netanyahu said in response to the incident on the Golan border, "but a challenge to the existence of the State of Israel, which they describe as a catastrophe that must be rectified."

Netanyahu scored another little victory yesterday after President Barack Obama announced he would address the AIPAC Conference. Obama does not intend to appear before the stronghold of Israel's supporters in America in order to attack the settlements and the occupation. His decision to appear there, rather than sending his vice president, suggests that Obama does not intend to clash with Netanyahu in their upcoming meeting.



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