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Opinion

Wise up, Israelis. Prolonged civil war in Syria is bad news for you.

Some Israelis have suggested that continuing conflict in Syria is good for Israel, as its enemies are occupied fighting each other. This view is morally reprehensible, but also shortsighted. Ending the bloodshed in Syria is in the best interests of all, including Israel.

By Benedetta BertiOp-ed contributor / August 20, 2013

An Israeli soldier jumps over a fence during training near the border with Syria in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, July 17. Op-ed contributor Benedetta Berti writes: 'While Israel should continue to refrain from becoming involved in the [Syrian] conflict at a military level' it 'should take further steps to increase its humanitarian response to the crisis.'

Ariel Schalit/AP/File

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Tel Aviv, Israel

Could Syria’s civil war could be good for Israel – and America? That’s the view some Israeli commentators have suggested lately. For them,  the thinking goes like this: As long as Israel’s neighbors and enemies are occupied fighting each other, their attention will be diverted from Israel.

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But finding merit for Israel in the continuation of Syria’s civil war is not just morally reprehensible; it also reveals a level of shortsightedness and misunderstanding of the new regional dynamics. Stopping the bloodshed and allowing the Syrian people to restore peace and stability in their country should be seen as a key interest of all regional actors, including Israel.

When political protests against the Assad regime first erupted in Syria, the reaction from the Israeli government was overall ambivalence.

On the one hand, pro-status quo analysts argued that Syria's President Bashar al-Assad was both a predictable and relatively risk-averse neighbor, and that his triumph over the opposition forces would be a positive outcome for Israel. A second school of thought argued that Israel has a strong interest in seeing a change in the status quo in Syria, as this would deliver a hard blow against two of Israel’s main regional foes, Iran and Hezbollah.

As time passed and the conflict escalated in a bloody and destructive civil war, the anti-Assad camp gradually gained more strength and influence both in the political and in the public debate in Israel.

Lately, a third Israeli view on Syria’s conflict has gained some (limited) traction, voiced by some commentators and among the general population – that Israel’s interests would be served by the continuation of the civil war. With the once mighty Syrian army deadlocked in a fight against the rebel forces, and with both Iran and Hezbollah deeply invested in the conflict, Israel can “sit back and relax” while its main enemies get weaker by the day.

Applied on a regional level, this theory argues that the rise in internal divisions and strife in the region should be seen as a positive development for Israel.

This poorly disguised gloating over the growing level of regional violence and instability in the Arab world is deeply disturbing in several ways.

First and foremost, these statements reveal both a lack of empathy and a shameful callousness to human suffering. Syria’s conflict has left more than 100,000 dead (with at least 6,500 of them being children), more than 1.9 million refugees, 4.5 million internally displaced persons, and more than 7 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance. There is just no possible political or geostrategic interest that could justify arguing in favor of the continuation of the status quo.

What is more, this type of analysis reveals a deep flaw often present in mainstream Israeli political thinking on the Middle East: the misguided notion that Israel is an island capable of completely isolating itself from the evolving regional dynamics.

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