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Amid Syria's turmoil, Israel sees Assad as the lesser evil

While Syria's 40-year Assad regime has fought multiple conflicts with Israel, it has also been a stable neighbor – making Israelis uneasy about the prospects of Islamists gaining power next door.

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In this citizen journalism image made on a mobile phone, taken Tuesday, May 3, Syrian men carry bread loaves during a protest against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, in the coastal town of Banias, Syria. The turmoil has made neighboring Israel uneasy.

AP

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As Syria's Assad regime buckles under mass protests for reform and democracy, neighboring Israel is watching with unease.

True, the downfall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would ostensibly remove a key player in the Iranian-led alliance threatening the Jewish state on several fronts. But Syria under Mr. Assad has been a stable neighbor and maintained a regional balance that officials and analysts fear could crumble – providing an opening for hard-line Islamist groups.

"I prefer the political extremism of Assad over religious extremism," says Ayoub Kara, a parliament member from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party. "We don’t want religious extremism on the border."

Two worst-case scenarios envision a boost for groups considered Islamic radicals. In one, Iran could gain greater influence in post-Assad Syria. In the second, contradictory scenario, the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood could control a new government.

While most analysts agree that the fall of Assad’s regime would remove a reliable ally of Iran, the Islamic Republic might use that power vacuum to forge a closer bridge to Hezbollah or gain sway over a fledgling Syrian ruler. And even the weakening of Assad's rule could give Iran an opportunity to expand its influence in Syria, by propping up Assad.

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