Contrary to previous assessments, Israel’s intelligence no longer view the survival of Assad’s regime as beneficial for Israel. After months of adopting a wait and see strategy, Israeli officials have started changing their attitude toward Syria.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Syrian regime is doomed. He called on the international community to step up pressure on Assad’s regime.
For Barak, the downfall of the regime will be a major blow to Tehran and other non-state actors such as Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad. “I’m quite frustrated for the slowness of its collapse. I believe that he (Assad) is doomed anyhow. I believe that there is a need to raise our voices both for moral reasons and practical...much more loudly,” Barak told CNN.
The timing of Barak’s statement cannot be more striking as it came only one day after a report quoting the chief of the Israeli military intelligence General Aviv Kochavi as saying in Washington that Israel would be better off with Assad’s regime. Explicit in his statement is that the intelligence community in Israel has changed its stance on Syria. For Israelis, it is not a matter of if but of when Assad will leave the scene. They calculate that Assad’s fate is sealed.
Kochavi was on a secret visit to Washington and the UN headquarters in New York two weeks ago. Israel is yet to be certain of the consequences of the demise of Assad’s regime. It is no secret that Israelis fear that Islamists may seize the opportunity and take over in Syria. Because of this fear, Barak argued for keeping the structure of the regime in Syria. Radical Islamists are the source of concern for the Israeli decision makers. The worst scenario for Israelis will be to see the Golan Heights fall in the hands of extremist such as Al-Qaeda.
If anything, Israelis are sensitive to the threat posed by Tehran rather than Syria. On more than one occasion, the Israeli leadership has hinted at the possibility of a preemptive strike on Iran to reverse its nuclear program. “I have enough experience to know that a military option is not a simple one...it would be complicated with certain associated risks. But a radical Islamic Republic of Iran with nuclear weapons would be far more dangerous both for the region and, indeed, the world,” Barak said.
Barak’s remarks should be seen within the debate within Israel as to what to do with regard to Iran.
Former security chiefs have made public statements warning against any reckless strike against Iran. Former internal security chief Yuval Diskin recently accused the government of his country of misleading the public on the level of effectiveness of a military strike. His statements caused uproar. Barak was not happy with such statements coming from former security officials.
“Parts of the world, including some politically motivated Israeli figures, prefer to bury their heads in the sand,” Barak said. On top of that, Barak wants to see a quick action before it is too late. Israel would run a huge risk if it failed to act on time.” Iran’s military nuclear program will be sufficiently developed and suitably concealed, rendering the facilities immune to surgical attacks.”
Israel held a long truce with Syria on the Golan Heights. Therefore, senior politicians have been reluctant to discuss the future of a Syrian regime for months. If anything, Israel fears the replacement of the Arab regimes. For almost a year Tel Aviv has circumspectly watched the seismic political shifts in region. They think the ascendance of Islamists in the Arab World will be unlikely to herald changes favorable to the their country. Some Israeli observers have argued that a regime change in Damascus could transform the quiet Golan Heights into a battlefield and Syria could be turned into a new base for anti-Israel radicals.
That said, Israel’s calculations have to do with their assessment of what is going on the ground. Key decision makers came to the conclusion that Assad’s regime will not make it and that change is just a matter of time.
Israel has been watching the development from the Golan Heights and finally they came to the unavoidable realization that Assad is on his way out. Will this happen before the end of the year remains to be seen.