Israeli officials, who for months were reluctant to discuss the fate of a hostile Syrian regime with which they have a long-held truce, are increasingly calling for its ouster. The same is true in the towns perched on a snow-streaked mountain visible from here, where most residents are members of the Druze religious sect who identify themselves as Syrian and where the conflict is carving deep new divisions, pitting cousin against cousin.
For more than a year, Israel has warily watched the seismic political shifts in the Arab world, believing that the rise of Islamism is unlikely to herald changes favorable to the Jewish state. 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.
Here along the boundary, where the Israeli military scrutinizes subtle shifts on the other side and Druze villagers gather snippets of information from relatives in Syria via Skype and Facebook, there is general agreement that Bashar al-Assad’s government will fight for many more months, spilling more blood and leaving the fate of the uprising uncertain.
“The way I see things today is that Assad will not collapse before the nation is destroyed,” said Waheeb Ayub, a businessman in the Druze village of Majdal Shams who is an outspoken supporter of the Syrian opposition.
Months ago, Israeli military officials stationed along the fenced frontier said, the Assad regime appeared to be cracking. Syrians on the other side were moving more freely and showing “unprecedented” defiance toward police, one military official said, and there were increased thefts from outposts of United Nations peacekeepers, who have patrolled the Israel-Syria cease-fire line since 1974.
But as the Syrian army concentrated assaults in key cities in recent months, Syrian police erected more checkpoints in the south, and the signs of slipping control faded, Israeli military officials said. The officials said they now see little chance of a refugee exodus and no signs that the small Druze population inside Syria is supporting the rebels.
“They’re minorities, and their existence relies on their ties with the regime,” one official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the military. “If we see them changing loyalty . . . we’ll know that the end is probably near for the Assad regime. So far we haven’t.”