Golan protests: Is Syria's Assad stirring up trouble with Israel?
While the Golan Heights returned to a tense calm today, yesterday's clashes signaled increased turmoil ahead – perhaps spurred by Syria's Assad as he battles revolt at home.
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The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said eight people were killed by land mines on the Syrian side of the border.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Golan Heights unrest
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Some see Assad's hand in protests
There are different assessments in Israel a day after the clashes about the degree of active involvement of the Assad regime in encouraging the protesters.
Current and former Israeli government officials suggest that the demonstrations were inspired by the government to distract attention from the domestic upheaval inside the country.
"These demonstrators could not have approached the border the way they did without a green light from the Syrian government," says a government official who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, accuses Assad’s regime of deliberately putting the protesters in harms' way to distract attention from domestic unrest. "It was very well orchestrated, and that’s what makes it so cynical and so brutal," he says.
But Liel, who once promoted peace talks with the Syrians, counters that Assad’s regime was too busy handling the week’s long uprising to organize the demonstrations.
"The motivations are not pro-Assad, but anti-Israeli. I don’t think he can take the credit for it," he says. "He is not strong enough to send Palestinians to die for him."
Symbolic protests, but how much of a real threat?
In an interview with Israel Radio, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said it was only a matter of time before Assad's regime would be replaced, and added that the military must prepare itself to handle more turmoil despite its history of tense calm.
That said, analysts say that the protests won’t change the military balance of deterrence between the two enemies.
"This is symbolic. There’s no strategic or military dimension to this at all," says Gerald Steinberg, a political science professor at Bar Ilan University. "There’s no real threat to Israel out of this."
A statement from the office of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon urged caution nonetheless.
"The events of today and of 15 May on the Golan put the long-held cease-fire in jeopardy," the statement warned. "The secretary-general calls for maximum restraint on all sides and strict observance of international humanitarian law to ensure protection of civilians."