The outcome of the uprising in Syria has the potential to revolutionize Israel's relations with her neighbors and turn the Middle East upside down for the better – if the current Syrian leader, Bashar Assad, survives. It would, however, require the type of foresight and deft diplomacy rarely seen anywhere these days, let alone in the Middle East.
Until today the Syrian regime, first under the rule of Hafez Assad and now his son Bashar, has been a sworn enemy of Israel. It went to war with Israel in 1948, 1967, and 1973 (and lost every time); and while Israel's other neighbors, and former enemies, Jordan and Egypt, signed peace agreements, Syria never did. The Assad regime has also been a strong supporter of the terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah, and is a prime ally of Iran – all declared enemies of Israel. The U.S. is also a primary foe.
For this reason some of Israel's leaders and friends are preparing to dance the Hora if Assad junior meets the same fate as Libya's Muammar Gadhafi. But that's not necessarily wise. Back in 2005 then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon warned President George W. Bush against toppling Assad, arguing that the devil we know (Assad) is better than what would come (the Muslim Brotherhood).
That's because the Brotherhood would likely be even more hostile to Israel than the Assads, as it has deeper, more theological roots – stemming from the writings of Sayyid Qutb. A glance around the region seems to support Mr. Sharon's fear: Ever since the Justice and Development Party (or "AK"), whose roots are in the Brotherhood, took power in Turkey, relations with Israel have worsened; the Brotherhood in Egypt refuses to recognize the peace treaty with Israel; and of course, Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, is committed to destroying Israel.
The Assads, on the other hand, positioned Syria as Israel's leading enemy more for realpolitik reasons. They wanted to distract the region's dominant Sunni countries (and their own majority Sunni population) from the fact that Assad's clan practices Alawite Islam, which Sunni Islam views as heretical (and is theologically worse than infidels), and yet still rules over Sunnis. It's a distraction trick employed by Shiite Iran too, ever since Ayatollah Khomeini seized power in 1979.