Aviv Kochavi (L) and Bashar Assad (R).
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS & SANA/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Incoming IDF Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi advocated toppling the regime Syrian President Bashar Assad, but was rejected by Israel’s government, which preferred to deal with a known adversary, Saudi Arabia’s Elaph newspaper reported.
Quoting an unnamed senior Israeli official, the Saudi daily said that Kochavi, then director of Military Intelligence, was in favor of removing Assad from power – even by assassination – over the regime’s support of Hezbollah.
According to the report, Kochavi recommended removing the Assad regime because “it would bring calamities to Israel from Iran, Hezbollah, the militias and Russian influence in the region.” But the head of the Mossad, Yossi Cohen, “wanted an address in Syria” – someone it could communicate with by back channels if need be.
The “prolonged conflict in Syria saw Israel often hold negotiations with the regime in Damascus in order to reach an agreement in Syria,” the report quoted the official as saying, adding that the diplomatic-security cabinet “held extensive discussions on the situation about Syria and decided that Israel would not allow an Iranian military presence there.”
The report stated that while Israel had several opportunities to target Assad and his top leaders during the eight-year long civil war, Jerusalem instead decided to focus on preventing Iranian entrenchment in the country by targeting Iranian and Hezbollah assets instead, “while making sure [Israel] inflicts minimal damage to the Damascus regime.”
The Israeli source told Elaph that recent discussions by the security cabinet on the Syrian situation have stressed that Israel will not accept any sort of Iranian military presence in Syria and “would do everything necessary to expel Iran from Syria, at any cost.”
Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon, from Tehran via Syria, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish state.
Working to prevent the entrenchment of Iranian forces and the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, the Israel Air Force has admitted to carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria.
In a rare interview, outgoing IDF chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told Elaph in October
that the expansion of Iranian influence across the Middle East is a major concern to both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“The Iranian plan is to control the Middle East by means of two Shi’ite crescents,” Eisenkot said, “the first being from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and the second across the Gulf from Bahrain to Yemen to the Red Sea. We must stop that from happening.”
Last year, former housing minister Yoav Galant called for Assad’s assassination following reports of the regime using a crematorium to hide its atrocities outside Damascus.
“The reality [is that] people are executed in Syria, being hit deliberately by chemical weapons, their bodies being burned – something we haven’t seen in 70 years. We are crossing a redline and it is time to eliminate Assad, literally,” Galant – a former major-general in the IDF and a current member of the National Security Council – told an audience at the Second International Ground Warfare and Logistics Conference at Latrun outside of Jerusalem.
According to Galant, the major threat to Israel is Iran which wishes to open up a Shi’ite land bridge from Tehran through Iraq to Damascus in order to get to Israel.
“What is behind Syria is Hezbollah who is backed by Iran. Iran is a danger to the security of the entire world. Iran is the problem, not the solution,” he said. “The world needs to expel the Shi’ite monster and send it back to where it came from. When we get the tail of the snake, we can get the head in Tehran too.”
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