The debate over the situation in Syria and President Bashar Assad's chances for survival has sharpened recently within the Israeli defense establishment. A senior defense official claimed recently in closed conversations that Israel has erred in its estimates of how quickly Assad would fall from power in Syria.
According to the official, Israel has "underestimated" Assad's strength and the inner life force of the Syrian regime.
Currently, there are differing opinions within the defense establishment about what to expect in Syria and what outcome for its northern neighbor would benefit Israel.
The opinion that the fall of Assad and the assumption of power by the rebels would be good for Israel has become less popular recently, as it has emerged that the infiltration of extremist Jihad and al-Qaida elements is deeper and wider than was originally estimated.
There are those who believe Israel should prepare for a scenario in which Assad survives, if not in his previous role as the president of "Big Syria" - then at least in his current situation in which he holds power in Damascus and in the corridors to the large coastal cities.
This scenario, which actually would entail the breaking up of Syria into three separate states, is likely the optimal scenario as far as Israel is concerned. However the defense establishment is stressing that all scenarios are possible in Syria and a change in policy by the West that will lead to military intervention could tip the scales toward one side or the other.
The defense official's comments came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed Israel's fears on Thursday, when he officially announced that Russia will indeed complete the sale of the S-300 advanced anti-aircraft missile system to Syria.
“Missile defense systems are delivered to protect the country that buys them from air strikes. But these contracts were signed long before air strikes on Syria were launched last year and now,” Lavrov said in an interview with Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV channel. Moscow is honoring previous agreements and has not signed any new contracts with Damascus, he stressed.
“Those who do not plan aggressive actions against a sovereign state have nothing to worry about, because air defense methods – and this is clear from the name – are a purely defensive system required to repel air attacks,” Lavrov said.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu reportedly urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a summit in Sochi on Tuesday not to sell the state-of-the-art S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria. Israeli officials declined to comment on Lavrov’s latest interview, which appeared to contradict a statement he made last week that Russia would not sell the S-300 advanced air defense system to Syria.
CIA director John Brennan arrived in Israel on Thursday on a surprise visit to discuss the situation in Syria, an Israeli official said.
Brennan held talks soon after his arrival with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon in Tel Aviv, the official added.
Channel 10 reported that Ya’alon told Brennan that Israel “will not permit the transfer of weapons” from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.