For Israel, Assad is the worst option

One of the strongest-sounding arguments against U.S. action that might lead to the overthrow of the Assad regime is the claim that such an overthrow would produce a victory for al Qaeda. I discussed this argument here.

Israel has a border with Syria. Iran and al Qaeda are both sworn enemies of Israel. Does Israel want Assad to remain in power?

No it does not.

Michael Oren, the outgoing Israeli ambassador to the United States, tells the Jerusalem Post that the “Tehran-Damascus-Beirut arc” poses the greatest threat to his country, and “the Assad regime [is] the keystone in that arc.” Oren adds that the “bad guys” backed by Iran are worse for Israel than the “bad guys” who are not supported by the Islamic Republic.

This is the case, Oren says, even with respect to al Qaeda affiliated fighters. But, as Oren points out, the al Qaeda types are only one element of the opposition to Assad.

In my view, Oren’s assessment is correct from an Israeli point of view. Of course, America’s interests don’t always coincide entirely with Israel’s — our threat calculus may be different.

But Israel’s interests are sufficiently aligned with ours to make its view of the comparative risks in Syria worth considering. For me, the lowest risk strategy is to support the least radical elements in the rebellion.

Oren also tells the Jerusalem Post that Israel will take military action if, as might very well happen, Assad tries to move some of his chemical weapons arsenal out of the country and into the hands of Hezbollah:

The chemical weapons were an American red line [note: not "the world's"], it wasn’t an Israel red line. Our red line was that if Iran and Syria try to convey chemical weapons or game changing weaponry to Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations, that Israel would not remain passive. We were prepared to stand by the red line, and still are.

Unlike like some countries Oren could have named.

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