Ex-Mossad chief sees opportunity in Syrian crisis (JERUSALEM POST) By EDMUND SANDERS/LOS ANGELES TIMES/MCT 02/22/12)
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Instability in Syria poses stark security risks for Israel, but also
offers a chance to deliver a stinging blow to Iran’s regional
ambitions and even its nuclear program, Israel’s former national
security adviser Efraim Halevy says.
Israel in recent weeks has been consumed by a debate over the wisdom
of launching a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
But Halevy, who also led the Mossad spy agency from 1998 to 2002,
believes Israel should also focus on exploiting the opportunity to
strike Iran politically and diplomatically – through the fall of
Syrian President Bashar Assad, a staunch ally of Iran.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Halevy, now a leading
Israeli intelligence analyst, said the country should start to look
at Iran and Syria as two sides of the same problem.
You have called Syria the Achilles’ heel of Iran. What do you mean?
Iran has invested enormous efforts in trying to secure Syria as a
major partner. The Alawite (Muslim) minority is very close to the
Shi’ites in Iran. The Syrian army is mainly based on Alawite command
and has units that are purely Alawite.
This makes the Iranian investment all the more important.
Syria is also the conduit for Iran’s arming of the Hezbollah Shi’ite
forces in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. If the regime falls in Syria and
the Iranians are expelled, this is going to be a horrendous defeat
How does Israel ensure that Iran is defeated in Syria? Wouldn’t it
backfire if Israel were seen to be involved?
Israel shouldn’t be directly involved for obvious reasons.
Once Israel enters the fray, this becomes an Israeli-Arab or Israeli-
Muslim confrontation, which deflects attention from the main issues
of Sunni- Shi’ite, and the Shi’ite repression of a majority in a
foreign country. Israel should promote through its channels with
major powers in the world a dialogue between leaders in Western
nations and Russia to try to forge a common policy on Syria, which
would entail mutual concessions at the American and Russian level.
Recently Israel has been very focused on Iran’s nuclear program and
the debate over a strike. It is doing enough on Syria?
I don’t have any evidence that Israel is working on this, but I hope
some work is being done. Israel has certain interests in Syria which
have to be taken into account. The ultimate resolution of this crisis
should not leave an Iranian presence in Syria with a weakened Assad.
I don’t want to see Iran having its own finger on the button of
Syria’s strategic weapons. Israel must make sure this does not happen.
You’ve said that a defeat in Syria would deal a blow to Iran’s
nuclear program. Why?
The issue of Syria and of Iran’s nuclear capability are
interconnected. You cannot divorce them. Iran’s effort to achieve
nuclear capability and its effort to entrench itself in Syria are
part of the same multifaceted regional problem.
One of the mistakes we’ve made up to this point is to deal with these
Not that long ago, many in Israel were quietly hoping Assad’s regime
would survive because he’s predictable in his relations with Israel
and is the “devil you know.” With reports that al-Qaida-linked
terrorists might be seeking a stronghold in Syria, do you worry that
Assad might be replaced with an extremist Sunni regime that is even
more hostile toward Israel?
I don’t think this is in the cards. The way things are at present,
any replacement of Assad is better.
Even an extremist Sunni regime?
The Sunnis have been oppressed by the Alawites.
They are looking for freedom and dignity and all the things of
the “Arab Spring.” They won’t come to power in order to launch an
effort against Israel. Their immediate concerns would be to stabilize
the situation inside Syria and move as quickly as possible to
alleviate the pressure on the society.
There have been a lot of fears that Assad might try to move Syria’s
arsenal of chemical weapons and sophisticated missiles to Hezbollah
in Lebanon. Though everyone is talking about a military strike
against Iran, what are the chances of such an Israeli strike in Syria
to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands?
I don’t want to preempt Israeli operations or planning.
All I can say is that there are certain things, if carried out in
Syria or Lebanon, that would be matters of grave concern to Israel,
and Israel would not be able to accept. (© 1995-2011, The Jerusalem
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