Israel's Man in Damascus

Why Jerusalem Doesn't Want the Assad Regime to Fall

A man holds a roll of pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a rally in support of him  in Damascus, 2011. (Khaled al-Hariri / Courtesy Reuters)

In October 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin telephoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to inform him that peace was at hand between Israel and Syria. Two weeks later, Rabin was dead, killed by a reactionary Jewish Israeli fanatic; the peace agreement that Rabin referenced died not long thereafter. But Israeli hopes for an eventual agreement with the Assad regime managed to survive. There have been four subsequent attempts by Israeli prime ministers -- one by Ehud Barak, one by Ehud Olmert, and two by Benjamin Netanyahu -- to forge a peace with Syria.

This shared history with the Assad regime is relevant when considering Israel’s strategy toward the ongoing civil war in Syria. Israel’s most significant strategic goal with respect to Syria has always been a stable peace, and that is not something that the current civil war has changed. Israel will intervene in Syria when it deems it necessary; last week’s attacks testify to that resolve. But it is no accident that those strikes were focused solely on the destruction of weapons depots, and that Israel has given no indication of wanting to intervene any further. Jerusalem, ultimately, has little interest in actively hastening the fall of Bashar al-Assad.

Israel knows one important thing about the Assads: for the past 40 years, they have managed to preserve some form of calm along the

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