Israel’s Newfound Popularity in Syria

April 27 2018

Since 2013, Israel has been providing humanitarian aid to Syrian civilians near its border and has brought thousands of Syrians to its hospitals for treatment. It has also provided some covert military aid to Syrian rebels, in addition to launching sporadic attacks on Syrian and Iranian positions. As a result, many Syrians have changed their attitude toward the Jewish state. Elizabeth Tsurkov writes:

On a popular Syrian news group on Facebook, a Syrian activist recently shared a video of Ahed Tamimi, the Palestinian teenager in jail for slapping an Israeli soldier. . . . But . . . most of the group’s members—all of them Syrian—reacted dismissively. [One] commentator, from Daraa, wrote, “If [Tamimi] had raised her hand in front of a Syrian soldier, he would have field-executed her.”

Far from outliers, these comments exemplify a changing reality among Syrians. The extreme levels of brutality meted out by the Assad regime and its allies against civilians in Syria have improved the image of the IDF by comparison across the Arab world.

On April 17, 2018, when Palestinians mark “Prisoners’ Day,” a popular Syrian opposition website decided to mark the occasion by posting an infographic comparing Israeli prisons and those of the Assad regime. The infographic shows that while 7,000 Palestinians are incarcerated in Israel, 220,000 Syrians are held in regime detention facilities. According to the infographic, 210 Palestinians have died in Israeli prisons since 1967, while 65,000 Syrians have died in regime detention over the past seven years. Such irreverence toward Palestinian suffering by an Arab media outlet would have been unimaginable a few years ago. . . .

But it’s not just aid that’s caused the shift in perception. Views toward Israel among Syrians also changed thanks to its strikes on the Assad regime, Hizballah, and later Iranian targets in Syria. For the first six years of the civil war in Syria, Israel was the only foreign force to have bombed the Assad regime and its allies, the parties responsible for about 90 percent of civilian casualties in Syria. And while not all anti-Assad Syrians support the strikes, many do, and they are no longer afraid to express those views openly on social media.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, Syrian civil war

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank