WASHINGTON — A reported Israeli air strike over the weekend on a military and scientific research facility near Damascus may have further weakened the regime of Bashar al-Assad, but the move hasn't led to any warming of the frosty relationships between Israel and its Arab neighbors, as some in the American pro-Israel community hope.
The Egypt, the Arab League, and even the Syrian opposition have all put out statements condemning the action, which reportedly targeted missiles bound for Hezbollah. The Egyptian presidency said in a statement that the strike "violated international law and principles that will further complicate the situation" in Syria. Egyptian state news agency MENA reported that the Arab League's Secretary General Nabil Elaraby asked the UN Security Council to immediately stop "the Israeli attacks on Syria."
And the main umbrella Syrian opposition group, the National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, put out a long statement criticizing Israel for the strike, calling the timing "suspicious" and blasting the international community for not doing more.
The Syrian Coalition condemns the Israeli attacks on the Syrian Center for Scientific Research in Jamaraya near Damascus. The Coalition holds the Assad regime fully responsible for weakening the Syrian Army by exhausting its forces in a losing battle against the Syrian people; who are the reason for its existence.
It is clear that the regime, which claims to be an opposing force, is instead weakening Syria in the face of an enemy. Until this point, the regime has worked at maintaining the best interests of the Assad family and the Assad rule. This has lead to wasted human capacity, a declining economy and weakened national foundations, which are gradually bringing the nation closer to total collapse.
The Syrian Coalition is suspicious of the timing of this attack. These strikes have given the regime the necessary time to draw attention away from its crimes and massacres on the Syrian coast. It is not unlikely that as a result of these attacks, and world distraction, more crimes will be committed.
We call on the Syrian people to hold steadfast onto the revolution, and to reject the regime's consistent aggression against the interests of the country and its people. We ask the Syrian people to continue working towards our goal of ridding the country of the destruction and chaos created by the Assad ruling family, who has consistently allowed its interests to take precedent over national interests.
The Syrian Coalition deeply regrets the deafening silence and powerlessness of the international community in the face of such grievous violations of international laws, continued by the Assad regime and taken advantage of by Israel in order to fulfill clear objectives. We urge the Security Council, with the support of the international community, to fulfill their duties to save the Syrian people in this time of crisis; and we renew our call for them to do whatever necessary to save the Syrian people.
The blanket Arab condemnation of the attack comes despite a broad understanding that many of Syria's foes appreciated it, and speaks as much to the region's intransigent dynamics as to any new development.
Though the Syrian opposition "were probably quite happy about this," according to Trita Parsi, a Middle East analyst and head of the National American Iranian Council, "they still condemned it."
"It reflects a reality in the region that it's not a question of Israel being unpopular on the Arab street, it's a question of Israel not being seen as legitimate on the Arab street," said Parsi, whose group is pushing for a diplomatic rather than military solution to the nuclear program of Iran, a key Syrian ally. "Most countries in the region at one point or another have had some form of tactical collaboration or arrangement with the Israelis. But they deny it."
Pro-Israel Americans are hopeful that the image of Israel coming to the aid of an oppressed Muslim people against their dictator — even if that wasn't fully Israel's intent — could prove powerful in mending fences with Arab nations in the region.
"There has been an increasing convergence of interests between Israel and certain Arab states for quite a while," said Josh Block, former AIPAC spokesman and director of The Israel Project. "Much like the quiet support that Israel enjoyed when she acted in self-defense against Syria's nuclear program in 2007, against Hamas in Gaza in 2008 and more recently, against Hezbollah in 2006, and on and on, there is a broad wellspring of support among in the region for moves, including those possibly by Israel, that undermine Assad, Hezbollah and Iran's ability to slaughter the Syrian people, and for stopping Assad from arming al-Qaeda or Hezbollah with 'game-changing weapons.'"
And certainly, in the small but fervid Syrian opposition Twittersphere, there were signs that Blocks' prediction was bearing out. Some Syrian activists were expressing gratitude for Israel's actions on Twitter on Saturday night, including the widely retweeted tweeter The 47th, from Homs:
Other Middle East observers aren't as hopeful. Expecting the strikes to inspire goodwill among neighboring Middle East countries is "a fantasy," Parsi said. "I think it's understandable to have that fantasy, but it's quite clear that it is and will remain a fantasy."
"I think [the strikes] might be able to generate some limited level of goodwill given the fact that there's a lot of frustration with what's happening in Syria," said Omar Baddar, a Middle East analyst in Washington, D.C. "But in the case of Israel, it's not going to translate into long-term goodwill."
"Any positive reaction you're seeing on Twitter is a very emotional gut reaction," Baddar said. "I think the formal reaction thus far has been the more strategic one for the opposition's long-term interests."
And the air strike may play into Assad's hands at least in terms of propaganda; the regime has long sought to paint the opposition as being in the tank with foreign and Western influences.
"Israeli involvement plays into Assad's narrative that the opposition is a foreign-supported conspiracy," said one Palestinian-American activist in the U.S. "There might be a segment of this community, the anti-Assad activists, that define their entire political worldview through hatred of the regime. I think most are more seasoned and mature than this."
With the Israeli-Palestinian standoff unresolved, the politics of publicly appreciating Israel's actions are too tricky for anti-Assad contingents in the Middle East, experts say.
"That's been the only tool the Assad regime has left," Baddar said. "Portraying itself as part of the axis of resistance to Israeli actions in the region."
And a statement by the Syrian government over the weekend reflects that strategy — leaning on the outlandish suggestion that Israel is in league with the terror group al-Qaeda.
"The Israeli attack on military sites in Syria is proof that there is communication between Israel and the terrorist groups who take their orders from al-Qaeda," the Syrian foreign ministry said in a statement broadcast on state television.