The destroyed Scientific Research Centre is seen in Damascus, Syria April 14, 2018..
(photo credit: OMAR SANADIKI/REUTERS)
Saturday’s coalition attack on Syria sent a message to President Bashar Assad – and others such as the Iranians, North Koreans and Hezbollah – that they cannot do “whatever they want,” former National Security Council head Yaakov Nagel said on Sunday.
Nagel, who served as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser from 2016-2017, said in a press briefing put together by The Israel Project that Assad’s chemical attack in Douma last week made no sense.
“Given his external and internal situation, I can’t explain why he did it,” Nagel said. “He had positive momentum; he had the Russians working with him; and there was a new axis of Turkey, Iran and Russia going forward in Syria. So why attack?”
Nagel explained the move by saying Assad simply thinks “He can do whatever he wants, and thinks there is a possibility that the so-called omelet that is Syria today can become an egg again. He is mistaken, but he is not acting alone – he is doing it because there are some forces letting him think that he can do whatever he wants.”
The former national security adviser said the message that Assad cannot use chemical weapons is an important one from an Israeli perspective, because “Assad only understands when he gets messages,” and if he “won’t get the clear message that he cannot use chemical weapons, then maybe he will mistakenly think he can use them in other places.”
France and Britain taking part in the US-led operation,
Nagel said, was less important for operative reasons – since the US could have acted alone – and more important because it sent the message that the US was not acting alone and in isolation. He said he hoped this same coalition would remain together in the run up to May 12, the deadline US President Donald Trump has given France, Britain and Germany either to “fix” the Iranian nuclear deal or face a situation in which the US will walk away from it.
US, British and French forces pound Syria with air strikes early on Saturday in response to a poison gas attack, April 14, 2018(Reuters)
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Nagel speculated that the timing of Israel’s release on Friday, of information that the Iranian drone shot down in February after penetrating Israeli airspace was carrying explosives, was connected to the May 12 deadline.
With the Iranians telling the world the ballistic missiles they are developing are only to defend themselves, “Everyone has to understand what Iran is, and what they are planning,” he said.
“This is the first time in our area that they used drones under the camouflage of [conducting] surveillance,” Nagel said. “But they cannot hide what they are doing in our area, we know exactly what they are doing. And this is the reason we made this public – so no one will be surprised if Israel will continue to act.”
Israel, Nagel reiterated, will not tolerate a permanent Iranian military presence in Syria. He maintained the Russians understand it is in their interest that the Iranians don’t establish such a presence. However, he added, understanding that it is not in their interest and acting to prevent it from happening are two different things.
Nevertheless, Nagel said he did not think the Russians would limit Israel’s freedom of action in Syrian skies as a result of Saturday’s attack. “We have a new neighbor in this playground [Syria] – Russia,” Nagel said. “We don’t want to clash with them, and they don’t want to clash with us. This is why we continue ongoing talks with them, to make sure there are no miscalculations.”
Nagel said Israel has found Putin “reliable,” meaning that Jerusalem can “count on what he says,” and vice versa.
“I don’t think there is another leader in the world who talks with Putin more than Netanyahu,” he said. “He means what he says to us when he talks to us. That is not to say that every time we agree, but we usually can count on what he said. We are aiming to make sure that he understands that our interests and his interests are the same – and that if he wants quiet in this area, he should make sure the Iranians are not there. Because if the Iranians will be there, it will not be a quiet area.”