Israel’s preference is for President Bashar Assad to remain in power rather than see radical Islamist forces take control in Syria, the former military chief of staff is quoted in Wednesday’s edition of the daily tabloid Ma’ariv as saying.
Dan Halutz, who served as IDF chief of staff during the Second
Lebanon War in 2006, told a gathering in Moscow that the prospect of
al-Qaida-affiliated elements ruling Damascus in place of the Assad regime would
be more problematic from Jerusalem’s standpoint.
“The regime in Syria is
killing its citizens on a daily basis, but we need to admit that the opposition
in Syria is comprised primarily of very extremist Muslims like al- Qaida,” the
former IDF chief is quoted as saying in Ma’ariv.
“The question that needs
to be asked is, ‘What is good for Israel?’ It’s an important question, because
we need to ask ourselves if we want to replace this bad regime with a very bad
regime which we don’t know. And this is something that we need to
It is worth noting that the Israeli government’s
official position is that it is not intervening on behalf of any of the warring
parties in Syria, where the civil war has reportedly claimed the lives of over
100,000 people. While Halutz does not hold a formal government title, his
statement is considered unusual given his access to – and familiarity with – the
highest levels of Israel’s political and military establishment.
at a fund-raising event held in Moscow for the Sheba Medical Center at Tel
Hashomer, Halutz mentioned last Saturday’s roadside bomb attack that caused
damage to an IDF patrol jeep in the northern Golan Heights, the first such
incident to take place in 40 years.
“That’s just a small indication of
what will happen if these extremists come to power,” he said. “As of now, it
appears that the international community understands that they cannot unseat the
Assad regime as long as they do not know what will follow. Right now, it looks
as if the alternative [to Assad] is a regime that would destabilize regional
Halutz’s statements seem to contradict those made by former
ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who told The Jerusalem Post
earlier this year that “bad guys” backed by Iran are worse for Israel than “bad
guys” who are not supported by the Islamic Republic.
In a parting
interview with the Post, Oren traced the evolution of Israel’s message on Syria
during the three weeks of the chemical weapons crisis.
message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we
always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who
were backed by Iran,” he said.
This was the case, he said, even if the
other bad guys were affiliated with al-Qaida.
“We understand that they
are pretty bad guys,” he said, adding that this designation did not apply to
everyone in the Syrian opposition. “Still, the greatest danger to Israel is by
the strategic arc that extends from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the
Assad regime as the keystone in that arc. That is a position we had well before
the outbreak of hostilities in Syria. With the outbreak of hostilities we
continued to want Assad to go.”
Oren reiterated Israel’s position that it
would not tolerate attempts to transfer chemical arms – which are currently in
the process of being dismantled by the Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons – to Hezbollah.
“The chemical weapons were an American
redline, it wasn’t an Israel redline,” Oren said.
“Our redline was that
if Iran and Syria try to convey chemical weapons or game changing weaponry to
Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations, that Israel would not remain
passive. We were prepared to stand by the redline, and still are.”
Keinon contributed to this report.