Arab Spring Spilling Into Israel?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011 11:40 AM

By Fred Fleitz

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Is the "Arab spring" on its way to Israel?

This probably was the intended message of the protests which took place on “Nakba Day,” an annual date when Arabs lament the founding of the state of Israel.  Palestinians rushed Israel's borders at Lebanon, Syria, and Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of 15 Palestinians and many more injuries.

The Israeli Defense Force was caught by surprise but was able to defend the borders. But the crowds got what they came for: heaping more bad publicity on Israel. Most of the international media dutifully complied.

This was a strange protest. Busloads of Palestinians could never have reached Syria’s border with Israel without the permission and sponsorship of the Assad regime. The same goes for southern Lebanon: Hezbollah knows the consequences of border provocations with Israel and obviously permitted and sponsored the Palestinians who traveled to the southern Lebanon border. As for Gaza, it doesn’t take much to stir up a new round of anti-Israeli demonstrations there.

At the same time, the West Bank was relatively quiet. So was Israel’s border with Jordan, which has more Palestinians than Syria and Lebanon combined. Maybe they didn’t get the memo about the protests.

Sunday’s border incidents did not occur by accident. They were staged by Syria and its allies — Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas — because they desperately need to change the subject from the growing protests plaguing Syria and the consequences of the Assad regime’s bloody crackdown.

The Assad regime’s escalating use of force has not quelled the three-month old uprising which is flaring up every week after Friday prayers. The regime still has an iron grip on the country and is not yet in danger of collapse.

However, its long-term prospects are not good. The longer the violence lasts, tensions between the ruling Alawi minority and the Sunni majority only grows, which further fuels protests and regime violence. The Assad regime certainly knows the consequences of being overthrown could be catastrophic for Syria’s Alawis since the regime’s violence against protesters probably would lead to retribution by the Sunni majority against Alawis and other minority groups that support the regime.

Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas have a vested interest in propping up the Assad regime. Syria and Iran have closely cooperated in undermining Israel and promoting instability in Iraq.

Syria is a conduit for Iranian weapons headed to Lebanon and Gaza for Hezbollah and Hamas and allows terrorist groups safe haven on its territory. Syria extends Iran’s influence into the eastern Mediterranean and losing this base would be a major setback to its interests. To defend the Assad regime, Iran reportedly sent snipers to shoot at democracy activists.

I was in Syria in February and drove from Damascus south to Amman, Jordan. Damascus seemed peaceful at the time, although there were security forces everywhere with radios watching everyone. There clearly was some wealth in the country and a huge potential for tourism in Damascus and at the magnificent Roman ruins in Palmyra and Bosra.

There were few tourists and almost no Western tourists. I saw the Hezbollah gift shop in Damascus which has a metal Israeli flag on the ground in front of the shop for passersby to stomp their feet on.

Crossing the border into Jordan, I saw a very different country. Although Jordan has its own problems, including high unemployment, it is so much more advanced and developed that it makes Syria look backward. There have been some recent protests in Jordan, but they have been peaceful and have not called for the end of the monarchy.

Instead of developing the economy, seeking foreign investment, and encouraging tourism, Syria has cultivated terrorists, spent enormous sums building up its army, developed ballistic missiles, and tried to build a nuclear reactor designed to produce fuel for a nuclear weapon, a reactor Israel destroyed in 2008.

The protests in Syria are driven by a ruthless dictatorship, lack of freedom, a corrupt centrally planned economy, and an unemployment rate that the U.S. State Department believes could be as high 20 percent. It is facing a rising number of international sanctions due to its support of terrorism and the recent crackdown. So one can see why Damascus and its allies want to change the subject by concocting a story that Israel is fighting its own Arab spring.

The problem is, Syria seems to be stuck in a long-term and growing cycle of violence that can’t be so easily hidden or disguised from the Syrian people or the world.

Fred Fleitz recently joined Newsmax after a 25-year career with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the U.S. Department of State, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staff. He served as chief of staff to John Bolton and as a senior adviser to former House Intelligence member Peter Hoekstra.

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