There appear to be sharp disputes among Israel’s intelligence agencies, over the best outcome of the two-year Syrian civil war. Against the background of a public debate about whether the Red Line has been crossed by the Syrian government, which likely attacked its own civilians using chemical weapons, Israel’s government experts are differing in their assessments of whose victory would better serve the Jewish state’s security interests: the Assad regime in Damascus or the rebels.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assembled, for the first time since the start of his current coalition government, the Security Cabinet, to discuss the situation in Syria and the Israeli response to recent developments, Maariv reported.
Israeli intelligence agencies are split on how to act regarding Syria. One organization believes that the focus should be kept on the Iranian nuclear issue, and, therefore, if the Assad regime collapses, the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis would absorb a mortal blow, thus improving Israel’s ability to handle the nuclear threat.
One of the factors delaying an Israeli raid on the Iranian nuclear facilities—certainly not the only one—is the probability that Iran’s clients, Syria and especially Hezbollah, would retaliate, peppering Israel’s civilian centers with the estimated 50 thousand short- and medium-range missiles Hezbollah has in its possession. With Syria turning anti-Iranian—the rebels are Sunni, Iran is Shiite—and with a consequently embattled—also Shiite— Hezbolla, The likelihood of a retaliation would diminish.
But another intelligence agency’s evaluation focuses on the border between Syria and Israel, and away from the Iranian strategic threat. It is estimated that removing Assad would create chaos and the disintegration of the central government, and as rebel groups then settle on the Syrian-Israeli they are highly likely to initiate attacks against Israel. Therefore, this agency recommends, the best course of action is to allow, and whenever possible even encourage the warring parties in Syria to continue to wear each other down over time.
So far, everyone agrees that the ongoing civil war has been a bonanza for Israeli security concerns, especially as it has been drawing Hezbollah fighters into the conflict, and returning scores of them to their homeland in convoys of coffins. As a result, Hezbollah, which has done better against the IDF in the 2006 Lebanon War, may be losing its clout in Lebanese politics, and may even be facing internal strife over its direction. The rumors about the organization’s leader Hasan Nasrallah being stricken with cancer (he’s been denying it) are a good thing, too.
It isn’t clear, according to Maariv, where Netanyahu stands in this debate. At the moment he is most concerned with the possibility that the United States would be pushed by public opinion to supply the rebels with weapons—which it may be doing via clandestine channels already.
But Netanyahu has a different perspective on the Red Line issue regarding President Obama’s decision on becoming involved directly in Syria. A Sunday Times report suggested that when Obama was visiting in Israel, he was given a full and thorough report on the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons. Netanyahu’s concern is not whether or not Obama takes steps to punish Assad on using chemical weapons, but whether or not Obama ever makes good on his word regarding Red Lines.
What will Obama do at one minute before midnight—which is bound to take place this summer—when Netanyahu provides him with irrefutable proof that Iran had crossed its Red Line, and is now capable of producing and launching nuclear weapons?
And so, the competing interests here are the “convenience” of having two kinds of Syrians delivering one another into the embrace of 72 maidens in the hereafter—versus the existential need to force the president of the United States to keep his promise on Israel’s life or death issue.
A component that has not been in discussion until recently is the attitude of Israel’s on-again, off-again Muslim ally in the region, Turkey. The Turks have been feeling the effects of the Syrian civil war in a much more pronounced way that Israel. Their territory has been breached several times by aggression from the other side of the border, while thousands of Syrian refugees are flooding across the same border. Does Turkey want a quick end to the war, and whom do they like better, Assad or the rebels? And is Turkey not equally terrified of a nuclear Iran as are Israel and Iran’s neighbors along the Gulf?
There’s much to be said for President Obama’s reluctance to re-play the Iraq WMD scenario in Syria, not to speak of entering yet another regional war. But if that’s the case, Obama would have to go out of his way to reassure the Israelis that Red Lines are not all alike, and that while he’s skeptical about America’s need to act on Syria’s Red Line, when it comes to Iran it would be an entirely different story.
About the Author: Yori Yanover has been a working journalist since age 17, before he enlisted and worked for Ba'Machane Nachal. Since then he has worked for Israel Shelanu, the US supplement of Yedioth, JCN18.com, USAJewish.com, Lubavitch News Service, Arutz 7 (as DJ on the high seas), and the Grand Street News. He has published Dancing and Crying, a colorful and intimate portrait of the last two years in the life of the late Lubavitch Rebbe, (in Hebrew), and two fun books in English: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption, and How Would God REALLY Vote.
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