Syria is playing a dangerous game on its border with Israel, encouraging, even bribing, protesters to storm the barricades in order to divert attention from its brutal suppression of pro-democracy forces. On the same day that Israel repelled infiltrators in the Golan, Syrian forces killed 38 pro-democracy protesters. Syrian television featured wall-to-wall coverage of the skirmish with Israel and unsurprisingly ignored the violence perpetrated by Syria’s own troops against its own people.
Syria’s claims of 22 deaths and some 350 casualties also seem wildly exaggerated. In drumming up a violent protest (and storming an international border is by its nature violent) and then complaining of a “massacre,” Syria comes close to embodying a famous definition of the word chutzpa.
Israel finds itself in a bind on its northern border. Bashar Assad’s autocratic regime represented something like stability for the Israelis (albeit a stability matched by Syria’s support for regional bad actors like Hizbullah in Lebanon). Israel and its friends long to support the fresh winds blowing through the Arab world, but also worry about what will be unleashed with the demise of the autocracies. In Egypt’s case, some genuine voices for democracy are being matched by those who see anti-Israelism as the true expression of Egyptian “character.” That is an ominous sign.
Some observers suggest that were true democracies to emerge from the upheaval in the Arab world, the victors would eventually find more in common with a fellow democracy like Israel than not. Perhaps. But Israel is not holding its breath.
In the meantime, we can only hope that the world comes to judge it not by the awful moral relativism that animates Israel’s antagonists, but by a fair assessment of the risks it faces and opportunities it may see. No country would tolerate a mob assault on its border, and Israel used admirable restraint in repelling it. Can the same be said of Syria?