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

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Israel is also afraid that if Syria’s Sunni majority were to replace the Alawite minority now in charge, it would give the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood a dominant role in the country. Even if the Sunni leadership were secular, analysts in Israel said they are likely to take even more of a hard line against Israel because of historic ties to Sunni Muslims in the Palestinian territories.

"Assad is definitely an enemy who helps Hamas and Hezbollah. But the disintegration is frightening," says Alon Liel, a former managing director of the Israeli foreign ministry who has advocated in the past for Israel-Syrian peace talks. "There is no one opposition group that can take control of Syria. It’s quite a mess."

Syria's Assad: A stable neighbor

In the past three decades, Israel and Syria have fought three wars with each other and another by proxy in Lebanon. Since then, Israel has accused Syria of sponsoring low-level violence in third party countries that occasionally flares up into a limited conflict, like Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006 and with Hamas in 2008-09.

During the same period, three rounds of peace talks have failed.

Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser under former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Mr. Sharon once slammed an Israeli who suggested that regime change in Syria. "Sharon said, 'Are you crazy?' " he recalls. "The best for the time being, is having a Bashar Assad who is fighting for his legitimacy.' "

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