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
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 for Iran.
How does Israel ensure that Iran is defeated
in Syria? Wouldn’t it backfire if Israel were seen to be involved?
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 issues separately.
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
Even an extremist Sunni regime?
The Sunnis have been oppressed by
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
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
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.
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