Only two weeks after Israel reportedly carried out what looks like a daring raid on some Syrian nuclear site deemed too dangerous for Israel not to react, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered an olive branch to Syrian President Bashar Assad by saying: "I have a lot of respect for the Syrian leader and for Syria's conduct. They have internal problems, but we have no reason to rule out dialogue with Syria."
To us, this is like a head of a household beating his concubine and then telling her "I love you, honey."
Less than 48 hours after Olmert empowered Assad with his words, another March 14 Lebanese Member of Parliament was killed using the preferred methods Assef Shawkat has mastered for both Iraq and Lebanon: a car bomb.
Diplomatically speaking, it is one thing to poke someone in the eye but quite another to drive him to further his streak of violence, especially against Lebanon, an ally. Assad interpreted Prime Minister Olmert's words as an insurance policy, despite having just been shown the prowess of the IAF two days earlier.
Israeli policies towards Syria are sometimes baffling to outside observers like myself. Israel is a strong country with unlimited human resources and an unmatched military capability, yet it behaves, within the context of its regional security belt, as a junior country undecided at best as to what to do with the mushrooming problems it finds itself surrounded by.
Arab perception of Israeli prowess is slowly eroding, which directly affects Israeli deterrence. The propaganda machine of Hizbullah backed by the Ba'athist and the Palestinian terror groups in Damascus will eventually overcome the psychological advantage Israel has over its neighbors. Not yet though.
After my visit to the Knesset, Syrians inside Syria were heard uttering "If al-Ghadry has been received by Israel that means he is powerful." Little do they know how much we struggle for their freedom. But the fact remains: Israel is still hated and admired at the same time in most Arab countries. What you need to be aware of is that Assad and Hizbullah are working hard to ensure that the admiration factor is eradicated.
Israeli nonchalance a mystery
We, Syrian dissidents, are watching a phenomenon develop right in front of our eyes inside Syria that reminds us of Iran in late 1978. If you see the signs we are seeing, you would come to the same conclusion that Uri Lubrani came to in the late Seventies when he predicted the fall of the Shah of Iran. What remains a mystery to me today is the nonchalance Israel is showing in the face of a possible Syrian white revolution that would overthrow Assad the way the Shah was overthrown.
Unlike Saudi Arabia, which has stacked its cards and is developing a plan, Israel still has no plans to protect its interests in case Assad falls. In fact the only plan we see are the words that Prime Minister Olmert uttered lately to shore Assad up.
Syrians are on the brink of collapse economically, which is empowering them politically in ways we are still discovering. These signs start with a story that turns into a legend that turns into hope. Exactly as Khomeini was portrayed by the Iranian people when they started posting his pictures without fully knowing who he really was. The void in Syria's political leadership has reached a proportion mature enough to create a sensational outcome in lightening speed. Is Israel ready for this change or will it be caught flat-footed again?
The writer is the president of the Reform Party of Syria, an opposition political party to the Assad regime