PM: Israel has no ‘favorite’ in Syrian civil war

Netanyahu responds to report Syrian missiles aimed at Tel Aviv; promises to act in Israel's best interest.

May 20, 2013 00:22
3 minute read.
Prime Minister Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting, May 19, 2013.

Netanyahu looking determined 370. (photo credit: Emil Salman/Haaretz/pool)

Israel is not taking sides in the Syrian civil war, but will act if necessary to prevent game-changing weapons from being transferred to Hezbollah, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.

Speaking at the outset of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said Israel was closely monitoring the developments and changes in Syria, and was “prepared for any scenario.”

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The government was acting “responsibly and with determination” to ensure Israel’s security in keeping with its declared policy of preventing the transfer – “as much as possible” – of “advanced weapons to Hezbollah and terrorist elements,” he said.

Without referring to foreign reports that Israel struck weapons depots deep inside Syria earlier this month, Netanyahu said, “We will work to ensure Israelis’ security interest in the future as well.”

Before the cabinet meeting, he told Likud ministers that reports that Israel preferred the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad over the rebels were incorrect.

The London Times
on Friday quoted a senior Israeli intelligence officer as saying Israel preferred the devil it knows to “the demons we can only imagine.”

Netanyahu said those comments do not reflect the government’s position.

He has consistently taken pains to pointedly stay out of the Syrian conflict, while at the same time making clear that Israel would act if it detected that either state-ofthe- art or chemical weapons were being moved to Hezbollah.

In an interview with the BBC in April, the prime minister said, “We don’t seek military confrontation, but we are prepared to defend ourselves if the need arises, and I think people know that what I say is both measured and serious.”

Netanyahu said during that interview that the situation in Syria was complicated because “you have the bad fighting the bad.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of Netanyahu’s seven-member security cabinet, said Israel did not want to get involved in Syria, but that if some of the strategic weapons systems there fell into Hezbollah’s hands they could pose a danger to Israel. What needed to be weighed was the damage those weapons could cause Israel, versus the damage that could come from taking action to stop their transfer, she said.

Livni, in an Army Radio interview, urged Israeli officials to “shut up” when it came to Syria.

“The last thing we need now is a statement about what is or is not preferable for us in Syria,” she said.

“Israel isn’t the crowd favorite in Syria, so any such statement could only be used as ammunition by one of the sides to try and divert the debate or the violence toward Israel, and that’s the last thing we need.”

An Israeli official said that in addition to grave concerns about the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, Jerusalem was also very concerned that Damascus might fragment and cease being a “unitary state.”

“That poses a whole series of problems for Israel, because if Syria fragments, with different warlords in control, then you have a serious challenge regarding who is accountable and who is in charge,” the official said.

The other major concern, the official added, was the volatile situation on the border with Syria, a border that has been quiet since 1974.

“That could change,” the official said, adding this “obviously” presented Israel with a new set of dilemmas.

The message Netanyahu has consistently been relaying, both publicly and privately, however, is that Israel would act directly in Syria only if it felt its security was being threatened, such as through the transfer of “ground-breaking” arms to Hezbollah or other terrorist groups.

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