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