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Syria, Lebanon Groups Opposed to Assad and Hezbollah Quietly Reach Out to Israel

More than one faction within the Syrian opposition has committed to attacking Israel, and fears have only deepened as jihadists moved to seize areas near Israel’s border with Syria.

A Syrian opposition activist stationed in Europe, however, is suggesting that there might be a different future for Israeli-Syrian relations should the Bashar al-Assad regime even collapse:

The activist, who goes by the pseudonym Amin Muhammad, is working on forming a liberal Syrian party that would be pro-West and seek the normalization of relations with Israel. Muhammad is in contact with Israeli politicians. The only one he agreed to name was Labor MK Isaac Herzog, who had helped arrange this interview… Although Muhammad is in Europe, he says he visits the opposition-held areas in Syria “all the time.” He lived there until 2012 and took part in the early stages of the opposition in 2011. He claims he has good connections in Syria in order to draw in new members to a Syrian political party, promoting liberal democracy and the separation of religion and state. He believes in a third way – “not the Muslim Brotherhood and not president Bashar Assad as until now there has not been another way.”

Muhammad specifically gestured toward the extensive and sometimes secret work that Israeli hospitals are doing to care for those injured in the Syrian conflict, including for children. The result, he told the Jerusalem Post, is Syrians “see the killing from their own regime and see the Israeli community treating the wounded.”

Analysts who commented on Muhammad’s position urged caution, noting that his stance “would have a difficult time making inroads among the population at large and the opposition composed of many Islamist elements.” Nonetheless, the interview is not the first time that officials from groups opposed to the Bashar al-Assad regime have expressed surprising sentiments about Israel.

Last February senior members of Lebanon’s March 14 Alliance – which is aligned against Hezbollah, a critical Assad ally – indicated to Israel that they intended to refrain from any future escalation with the Jewish state. The position was leaked by Western and American diplomatic sources Similar statements were reportedly delivered by representatives from Amal, a Shiite movement allied with Hezbollah.

The risk of spillover from the Syrian conflict had been steadily growing, and scenarios which would see conflict between Jerusalem and Hezbollah were becoming increasingly likely. Assad had reportedly begun transfering advanced weapons to the Iran-backed terror group, crossing an Israeli red line.

Meanwhile the organization’s diplomatic position was deteriorating as it intervened further and further into the Syrian conflict on behalf of Assad. Even office holders such as President Michel Suleiman talked about the need to rein in the weapons – and the independence to act – of the “Resistance.”

[Photo: Israel Defense Forces / Flickr]