The Syrian Civil War Is Changing Arab Attitudes toward Israel

October 10, 2019 | Hadeel Oueis
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As Bashar al-Assad and his allies continue their bloody repression of his domestic enemies, many Arabs no longer see Israel as the greatest enemy; similarly, both Arab rulers and their subjects are less inclined to admire Iran and Hizballah for their “resistance” against the Jewish state, and more inclined to see them as strategic threats to their own countries, made morally repugnant for participating in the slaughter in Syria. Hadeel Oueis, who spent several months in prison in Syria for her role in the early days of the uprising, explains:

[The] Syrian war with its catalyzing of new alliances has reinforced the conviction of a broad group of Arab governments and peoples that Iran and political Islam are the real enemies that pose an existential threat. . . . This is not to say that the rhetoric of resistance against Israel is faltering in the Arab sphere. Arab meetings and summits continue to focus on the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But [many Arabs are aware that] the crimes committed by the “axis of resistance”—which includes Assad’s Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, Iran, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad—against Arabs have been far worse than even the [distorted accounts found] in “resistance” literature about Israel.

For example, more than a half-million Syrians, including civilians and their children, have been killed at the hands of Iranian agents and other local Syrian groups. By contrast, Israeli hospitals during this period provided displaced Syrians with healthcare and safe rooms away from Assad’s barrel bombs and Iranian militias. This initiative, while small, has had an impact on the attitudes of segments of the Syrian community, where the contrast between Iranian and Israeli actions toward Syrians stood in sharp relief.

At the grassroots level, open access to the Internet has also expanded young Arabs’ access to and understanding of Jews, Israelis, and Israel. Ironically, [the teenage Palestinian provocateur] Ahed Tamimi’s experience in Israeli jails . . . has become a major point of comparison between the rule of law and respect for rights in Israel and the treatment of young members of the political opposition in the jails of Arab countries.

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