The Syrian people's revolt against the minority, Alawite dictatorship has fueled a bevy of articles in the Israeli media; much has been written, but little has actually been said. Some have concentrated on the revolution's ramifications in the Arab world, others on what it means for the "peace process", and so on, but there has been, to Israel's detriment, a serious lack of discussion towards defining Israel's role in the evolving situation.
Syria is an enemy state and should be treated as such. But no objective observer, especially one who has read the firsthand reports and seen the amateur video from the streets in Syria, can deny the emerging humanitarian crisis; one need only remember the events at Hama under Hafez Assad's presidency to guess what may be in store for the Syrian people.
As neighbors, and a people who take pride in our Jewish values and our drive to help those in need, Israel can both assist (in the form of humanitarian and medical aid) and benefit from (by exploiting the uncertainty surrounding Arab regimes), the Syrian revolt. Israel should base its policies on a basic principle: we are the strongest (democratically, economically, militarily) neighbor in our region and should be independently leading the charge, through both soft and hard power, on any and all developments in our backyard.
In the past few years alone Israel has significantly increased its use of soft power, providing humanitarian aid to countries following natural and manmade disasters in all corners of the earth. We have sent our elite search-and-rescue organization, ZAKA, to assist in rescuing and recovering humans buried in the rubble of hurricanes. We were the first country to operate a field hospital in earthquake-ravaged Haiti, we have sent rescue workers and volunteers to Turkey and Japan – and the list goes on.
Proportionally, Israel has perhaps the largest and most effective humanitarian-aid system in the world. In keeping with this tradition, Israel should directly assist the victims of the Syrian regime. It may not be possible to establish a field hospital in Daraa, but we should be providing food, medicine and other non-military supplies to the Syrian people. There is no guarantee of what the result of the protests (revolt) will be, but Israel should take the lead in establishing a new relationship with the Syrian people.
This is not some naïve dream; everyone knows that Israel's enemies will not line up around the corner waiting to sign a peace deal because of its soft power. The soft-power approach will only be effective when combined with hard power; a concept well understood in Israel's backyard.
In Israel's security realm (and the security realm of Israel's enemies), Syria is a critical component. Syria's geographic location, bordering Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, positions it as the transit point of people, supplies and weapons. For example, Syria's alliance with Hizbullah and Iran has allowed Iran to transport sophisticated military supplies and long-range missiles to its Hizbullah proxy. Reports indicate that the Hizbullah (and by logical association the Iranian) leadership(s) are concerned for the viability and future of the Syrian minority-ruled regime. They currently have billions of dollars worth of military hardware stored in Syria.
Should there be an effective regime change, led by the Syrian people, the fate of those supplies are in question. In this particular case, Israeli humanitarian aid can potentially have the result of security improvements by making it clear to whatever leadership may emerge from the revolution that Israel's only interests are to avoid a humanitarian crisis and guarantee that Syria continues to remain Israel's most quiet border for another 40 years.
A critical consideration in Israel's regional policy making should be the waning power of the United States. They are still the world's superpower, but are steadily being eclipsed in many categories. Their current financial situation and the overextension of their military (despite the recent assassination of Osama bin-Laden), requires Israel to lead its region from a position of assurance, power and independence. No longer should the United States dictate when and how we will respond to events in our backyard.
This includes exploiting the uncertainty in Arab countries by eliminating the leaderships of terrorist groups. Targeted killings, as the United States has recently displayed, are an acceptable method of eliminating potential threats to a nation's citizens. In the current case, the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad (both funded and guided by Iran), are housed safely within Syria. As they feel the pressure from the "Syrian street", they will most likely feel the need to relocate.
By doing this, in conjunction with soft-power programs, Israel will demonstrate that it will support innocent civilians, but deal harshly with the terrorists in its own backyard.