Bethany Bell
BBC News
April 6, 2011 - 12:00am

Israel is watching the unrest in its northern neighbour Syria with concern.

Syria has fought several wars with Israel and has close ties with Iran, and the militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas.

The occupied Golan Heights are now seeing ripples from the protest wave sweeping the Arab world and many people are wondering what the uprising could mean for Israel.

Recently around 1,000 Syrian Druze, who live under Israeli occupation, took to the streets in the village of Boqata.

But they were not calling for change in Syria. They were out to back the Syrian president.

"We are supporting President Bashar al-Assad," one demonstrator said. "We say to those who are against him: 'No'."

The Druze minority here has close religious and political links to the Syrian leadership.

But the Druze are not the only ones in this region who have an interest in whether or not Mr Assad survives.
Many people in Israel are unsettled by the unrest in Syria.

Earlier this year Israeli concerns were focused on its southern neighbour, Egypt - and the fate of the peace deal. Now Israelis are looking north to Syria - with whom there is no peace.
Revolutionary wave

Israel's Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor says the situation with Syria is complex.

"Syria is a neighbour, an enemy that does keep the border quiet," he said. "But it is supportive of terrorist groups from Damascus and is an ally of Iran.

"We are not in the business of telling other countries how to rule themselves," he said. "But what we see in Syria is part of a big wave throughout the whole Arab world. It has begun and we don't know where it will end."

Israel and Syria have fought three wars - but there has been no direct confrontation for decades.

For years Syria has fought Israel by proxy through militant groups, such as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Some Israelis are concerned that Mr Assad may try to ratchet up the conflict with Israel as a way of deflecting attention from his troubles at home.

Others, like the former director general at the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs, Alon Liel, worry about the rise of extremists in Syria, if Mr Assad goes.

"If there is a change, I think it will be in the direction that we don't like," he said.

"I don't see the possibility of the human rights activists taking over. It is only one segment of the rebels - there are Kurds, there are Islamists and the tribes and there are human rights Facebook activists. I don't think the Facebook guys will take over in Syria."

Uncertain future

In the Druze village of Madjal Shams, in the Golan, Shefaa Abu Jabal has signed a Facebook manifesto in support of the anti-Assad protesters. But she is pessimistic about the future.

"If we look at the whole picture and what happening in the Arab world, the Middle East, and the fear that is shaking Israel, we see one revolution after the other.

"And taking into consideration that it is easier for Israel to start a war than a peace negotiation, I think there will be violence between the two countries or maybe in the whole of the Middle East."

Dotted over the hills of the Golan are Israeli army bunkers. It is a reminder that despite the long period of calm in the Golan Heights, Israel and Syria are still technically at war.

These days, peace talks seem a long way off. And for Roy Gilad, an Israeli settler in the Golan, the Syrian unrest is uncomfortably close to home.

"Of course we worry... the problems may be shifted here to us and that is what we don't want. We want to be peaceful and quiet."


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