Frenzied Wash. Post speculation about trouble for Israel at Syrian border: Wishful thinking?
Israel's border with Syria has been quiet for nearly a year while Bashar Assad's regime keeps slaughtering its people, but leave it to the Washington Post to see dark clouds gathering for Israel -- with refugees and terrorists set to stream across the border as anarchy prevails in Syria and Bashar Assad might lose his grip on power ("Unease settles over Syria-Israel border - Tumult gripping Damascus frays nerves at long-calm border" by Karin Brulliard, page A8, May 9).
Brulliard's article, illustrated with a map and a photograph, takes up most of the front page of the international news section of the May 9 Post. And judging by the caption, the headline and the main thrust of the article, here supposedly is another major headache in the offing for Israel, especially if Assad is toppled. In other words, it fits the usual Post narrative.
"Some Israeli observers say the fall of Syria's regime could transform the Golan Heights from placid disputed territory into a battlefield or make Syria a base for terrorist organizations that are bent on attacking Israel," according to the caption.
Brulliard, reporting from the Golan, leads off by describing the border with Syria as "Israel's most serene frontier for four decades" -- a setup for how things may drastically change for the worse.
And here it comes in the second paragraph: "But the bloody tumult in Syrian cities beyond the horizon is sending forceful ripples through mountain villages on this side and into nearby Israeli military barracks and government halls three hours away in Jerusalem."
As a result, Brulliard adds, "The fall of Syria, some Israeli observers say, could transform the Golan Heights -- which Israel has occupied since 1967 -- from placid disputed territory into a battlefield, bringing with it a possible stream of refugees, or it could make Syria a base for terrorist organizations bent on attacking Israel."
Of course, Brulliard, who recently took over as the Post's Jerusalem correspondent, has her predicate of an up to now "serene, placid" border all wrong. Last year, as Assad was launching his brutal crackdown, he tried a distraction by getting young Palestinians in Syria to storm the Golan Heights border. It was anything but "serene." Israel immediately and forcefully repelled the intrusion and the border has been quiet for the last 11 months -- not for four decades.
To speculate about the future, especially in the Middle East, is a fool's errand. Even as Brulliard was filing her report, Israeli prime minister Netanyahu surprised everyone by forming a broad-based unity government with his Likud party's chief rival, the centrist Kadima party. Nobody could or would have predicted that 48 or even 24 hours earlier.
In an apparent attempt to cover herself, Brulliard eventually -- deep into her article -- gets around to some contrary speculation that Assad's fall actually would be a boon for Israel. She quotes Yuval Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu's inner security cabinet, as opining that Assad's fall would remove a regime that sought nuclear weapons and stockpiled chemical arms, and it would enfeeble Syria's patron Iran. Says Steinitz: "It's in the world's interest that this despot would be removed. If that happens, the axis of evil of North Korea, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon might suffer a serious blow."
But speculation that Assad's fall would be a strategic boon for Israel doesn't rate as the lead of Brulliard's piece -- not in the Washington Post. Just the opposite is flung at readers -- that it might be a disastrous development. The good-news-for-Israel theory is tucked into the 13th paragraph, which most readers probably never get to.
Brulliard's entire article is a lengthy litany of speculative theories -- lots of "would," lots of "could" and lots of "if" -- but hardly anything that's concrete.
One is reminded of the old saying about speculation gone amok that if my grandmother had wheels, she'd be a bus.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers