Ashkenazi: Syria protests could bode well for Israel

Former IDF chief of staff says Israel must keep military option on table for Iran, cannot cut defense budget.

Syrian protest 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Syrian protest 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Former IDF chief of General Staff Gabi Ashkenazi said Thursday that recent developments in Syria could have a positive impact on Israel. "In my opinion, no Sunni government will ever go as far with Iran as Assad did. The protests are already affecting [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah," he added, according to Army Radio.
Pro-democracy protesters have been calling for the resignation of Syrian President Bashar Assad for over ten months. Assad has responded with a harsh crackdown on demonstrators, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 5,000 people, according to UN estimates.
The situation in Syria is continuing to deteriorate, as many Arab states have withdrawn support for an Arab League monitoring mission. On Tuesday, the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) announced that it had decided to withdraw its monitors from the mission. The move followed a similar action by Saudi Arabia, which earlier in the week withdrew its monitors and called for "all possible pressure" on Damascus.
Critics of the Arab League mission say it has only bought more time for Assad to pursue a violent crackdown. Monitors are dependent on Syrian authorities for transport and security, compromising the Mission's independence in the eyes of critics. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, over 450 civilians and 145 soldiers, including 27 deserters, have been killed since the monitors deployed.
Ashkenazi's comments echoed those made earlier in the day by former IDF Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin. Speaking at the same conference in Tel Aviv, Yadlin stated that the recent protests in Syria could inadvertently bode well for Israel. The Israeli defense establishment had "for years proposed to reach a peace agreement with Damascus, even at the expense of painful territorial concessions," he said. "Now the potential exists for regional development without Israeli intervention."
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Ashkenazi also spoke about the Iranian nuclear program, saying that "we must act below the radar, with crippling sanctions, and with a viable military option at the ready." He added that dismissing the military option a priori would only help Iran. "Due to the current pressure being put on it, Iran won't engage in negotiations. Everyone, therefore, must keep the military option on the table, especially Israel," he said.
Ashkenazi expressed his opinion that Israel must not cut the defense budget in light of the present threats in the Middle East.
Reuters contributed to this report.