A good neighbor is better than a brother far off. Proverbs 27:10
Some months ago, I suggested that Israel offer humanitarian aid to the opposition in Syria. As would be expected, this idea received mixed responses from both sides. Many Israelis share the feelings expressed by our government’s inaction: “This is none of our business; we should not get involved at all.” And it’s no secret that Syrian has never been friendly to Israel. Even when not engaged in open warfare against Israel itself, Syria has consistently backed and supplied terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Although some Israelis – such as Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara, a Druze Arab MK and ardent Zionist – have taken a similar stance to my own, and attempted to build semi-official lines of communication with the Free Syrian leadership, these efforts have been stopped directly by Israel’s Prime Minister and Foreign Ministry.
Among the Syrian opposition leadership, the thought of Israel’s coming to their aid has been received with a mixed response at best. The editor of a Syrian underground opposition newspaper told me that his paper would write about my proposal, but that they (the Syrians) could take care of themselves without Israel’s help. One Arab friend put it to me this way: “If there is one thing all people in Syria have in common, it is their hatred for Israel.” Currently, both sides in the conflict think accusing their enemies of accepting help from Israel will strengthen their respective positions in the eyes of the Syrian public.
Apparently, the most defamatory thing that can be said about you in Syria is that you are backed by Israel. That being that case, offers by Israel to help the rebels might actually be counter-productive, since they would be viewed as “making a pact with the devil,” which could be hurtful to the revolution.
Syrian leadership, like that of many Arab states, has indoctrinated its citizens by telling them that the source of all of their sorrow and hardship is Israel. The Arab people have for years been told: “The Zionists are our greatest enemies,” in order to distract them from issues like their own basic rights and freedoms as citizens. As a result of this unrelenting propaganda campaign, even now, while leaders are using their own armies to gun down protesters and civilians in the streets, the Syrian public has still not fully grasped that the “Zionists” have nothing to do with the suffering they are currently experiencing at the hands of a second-generation corrupt tyrant.
Israel is known for extending humanitarian aid to peoples in need around the world – this is an imperative for our country – first and foremost because Jews are a compassionate people, and secondly because it is in Israel’s best interest to peel away the anti-Israel prejudices that are otherwise pedaled by media. Videos of IDF doctors delivering Haitian babies in the only operational field hospital after the recent massive earthquake there are a source of pride for all Jews. If we can reach the farthest ends of the earth to help people in need, then why not use the same means to help distressed people only a few miles from our borders, who are fighting for their lives and being gunned down in the streets by a bloodthirsty tyrant? The very same Assad who is currently using the Syrian army to massacre his own people (alongside those soldiers who refuse to comply with those orders) would just as soon attempt to do the same to the Jews of Haifa and the Galilee, were it not for the IDF presence in the Golan.
Building bridges with the leaders who come to power after Assad’s inevitable demise would be a wise move for Israel. Helping bring Assad down would surely be a moral thing to do, and the chance that the new leadership would maintain still more anti-Israel inclination is difficult to imagine. No one can predict the future, but there is definitely an opportunity to open a new page with the leadership soon to arise in Syria.
A Syrian dissident recently told me, “Even the Syrian people who do not believe in the government’s anti-Israel message can’t express themselves freely, since they’ll be considered traitors. The Syrian opposition’s views may be less hostile towards Israel, and they may be willing to have direct peace talks, but they are precluded from doing so by the legacy of the afore-mentioned anti-Israel propaganda that has long saturated the Arab public. Any interaction with Israel will lead to a loss of the opposition’s credibility.” On the other hand, he maintained, “most Syrians see Assad as a greater enemy than Israel. Israel treats Arabs much better than Assad, especially in jail – they do not torture and mutilate like Assad does. Also, the Assad family has killed more Syrians and Arabs (Palestinians) in the past 41 years than Israel has – for example, in the Syrian city of Hama during the Lebanon War in the 1980s, and now today.”
It seems that sitting back and watching Syrian events without openly interfering might very well be the only path of action for the Jewish State today. We can hope and pray that the new leadership destined to arise in Syria will have the wisdom to appreciate Israel as a good and friendly neighbor and implement normalization of relations between the two countries based not on efforts to undo mistakes of the past, but on the mutual regional interests of peace and prosperity.