Israel avoids US debate on arming Syrian rebels

At Knesset meeting, Netanyahu makes clear Israel not getting involved on discussion over arming opposition forces in Syria.

June 10, 2013 20:53
4 minute read.
Free Syria Army member with an assault rifle

Free Syria Army member with an assault rifle 390 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Amateur video)

With the Obama administration set to hold meetings this week on whether to arm opposition forces in Syria, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made clear on Monday that Israel was not getting involved in that discussion.

“Israel does not take sides in the Syrian civil war,” Netanyahu said in a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

According to government officials, the prime minister has been consistently careful about not giving advice to people who ask him whether the West should arm the Syrian rebels.

The official said that when asked, Netanyahu’s standard reply is that it is necessary to “think carefully about which arms, and which rebels.”

Netanyahu also referred to talk about undercover Israeli soldiers fighting in Syria “nonsense.”

Netanyahu told the committee that Iran is keeping Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime alive and has instructed Hezbollah to actively fight in Syria.

“Iran is sending Assad money, resources and experts.

For 40 years there was quiet in the Syrian arena, and it could be that this is changing before our eyes,” he added.

According to Netanyahu, Syria decided to transfer advanced weaponry to Hezbollah in larger quantities than before. These weapons transfers are the result of an Iranian decision that could change the balance of power.

“Israel will do all it can to prevent these weapons from being transferred to Hezbollah,” he added. “We have a clear policy to prevent this.”

International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz reiterated Israel’s policy of staying clear of Syria’s strife unless Israel becomes a target of Syrian fire.

Asked on Israel Radio about Israel’s position on the debate in Washington, Steinitz said that since Israel does not want to get involved in the Syrian battles, it also does not want to give anyone ammunition to say that Israel is involved.

“Each side there is trying to say that we support the other,” he said. “We were not asked by Washington in one way or another.

We are not interfering in Syria, and the world – the US – will weigh their own steps.”

Speaking to foreign reporters in Jerusalem later on Monday, Steinitz warned that Assad’s government “might not just survive but even regain territories.”

Regarding Assad’s threat to open a front against Israel on the Golan, Steinitz said that though he doubted this would happen, caution demanded that Israel be prepared for every scenario, even “the craziest.”

Refusing to relate to whether Israel would be more cautious in the future about attacking weapons systems being transferred from Syria to Hezbollah, something foreign reports have said Israel has done three times in the last year, Steinitz said that his advice to Assad was to carefully weigh his steps toward Israel.

“We are not interfering in the Syrian civil war, not on this side or the other. We are not intervening at all, despite the horrible tragedy that is happening close to us,” Steinitz said.

While emphasizing that Israel also had no interest in interfering in the future, he added that “it would be better for him [Assad] not to test us with provocations.

“We will defend ourselves,” he said. “And if Assad thinks that he can carry out a war of attrition against us on the Golan Heights, I suggest that he think again, because he could act in a manner that would endanger his existence and that of his regime. I’m sure that is not his intention, so he should be very careful.”

Assad issued a strong warning to Israel, saying that he is completely serious in opening up the Golan front against Israel, Lebanese paper Al-Akhbar reported on Monday.

The resistance will not launch primitive rockets aimlessly from time to time, but will carry out a well-planned and continuous resistance, Assad reportedly said to a group of visiting Jordanians. He added that Israeli attacks will elicit a strategic, rather than a local response.

His mention of randomly fired rockets could be a slap at Hamas, which often relies on this tactic when firing rockets from Gaza.

Hamas left its former base in Damascus in 2012, deciding to support fellow Sunnis fighting in the Syrian opposition. The move angered Syria and its ally Iran, which has decreased its support for the movement as a result.

Instead, he compared this resistance to the kind waged by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, according to the report.

In regard to Russia, Assad explained that it has not attempted to dictate a position on the country’s conflict.

Assad told Al-Manar TV in May that “there is pressure by the people to open a new front on the Golan. Even among the Arab world there is a clear readiness to join the fight against Israel.”

Assad stated that Hezbollah is involved in fighting the Israeli enemy and its agents in Syria and Lebanon. He attributed the failure of the Syrian opposition to its dependence on outside funding and said that it failed to create a real rift in the country.

Assad also said that he sees the balance of power in Syria shifting to the government’s side. And this is despite the fact that the “terrorists” are smuggling fighters and weapons through all of the borders.

In relation to Israel, he said, “If we want to respond to Israel, the response must be strategic.”

Ariel Ben Solomon contributed to this report. •

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