Ex-army chief Halutz: Israel prefers Assad over Islamists in Syria

Halutz is quoted by Maariv as saying prospect of Al-Qaida affiliated elements ruling Damascus would be more problematic.

Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Former IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Israel’s preference is for President Bashar Assad to remain in power rather than see radical Islamist forces take control in Syria, the former military chief of staff is quoted in Wednesday’s edition of the daily tabloid Ma’ariv as saying.
Dan Halutz, who served as IDF chief of staff during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, told a gathering in Moscow that the prospect of al-Qaida-affiliated elements ruling Damascus in place of the Assad regime would be more problematic from Jerusalem’s standpoint.
“The regime in Syria is killing its citizens on a daily basis, but we need to admit that the opposition in Syria is comprised primarily of very extremist Muslims like al- Qaida,” the former IDF chief is quoted as saying in Ma’ariv.
“The question that needs to be asked is, ‘What is good for Israel?’ It’s an important question, because we need to ask ourselves if we want to replace this bad regime with a very bad regime which we don’t know. And this is something that we need to seriously consider.”
It is worth noting that the Israeli government’s official position is that it is not intervening on behalf of any of the warring parties in Syria, where the civil war has reportedly claimed the lives of over 100,000 people. While Halutz does not hold a formal government title, his statement is considered unusual given his access to – and familiarity with – the highest levels of Israel’s political and military establishment.
Speaking at a fund-raising event held in Moscow for the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Halutz mentioned last Saturday’s roadside bomb attack that caused damage to an IDF patrol jeep in the northern Golan Heights, the first such incident to take place in 40 years.
“That’s just a small indication of what will happen if these extremists come to power,” he said. “As of now, it appears that the international community understands that they cannot unseat the Assad regime as long as they do not know what will follow. Right now, it looks as if the alternative [to Assad] is a regime that would destabilize regional security.”
Halutz’s statements seem to contradict those made by former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, who told The Jerusalem Post earlier this year that “bad guys” backed by Iran are worse for Israel than “bad guys” who are not supported by the Islamic Republic.
In a parting interview with the Post, Oren traced the evolution of Israel’s message on Syria during the three weeks of the chemical weapons crisis.
“The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” he said.
This was the case, he said, even if the other bad guys were affiliated with al-Qaida.
“We understand that they are pretty bad guys,” he said, adding that this designation did not apply to everyone in the Syrian opposition. “Still, the greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc. That is a position we had well before the outbreak of hostilities in Syria. With the outbreak of hostilities we continued to want Assad to go.”
Oren reiterated Israel’s position that it would not tolerate attempts to transfer chemical arms – which are currently in the process of being dismantled by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – to Hezbollah.
“The chemical weapons were an American redline, it wasn’t an Israel redline,” Oren said.
“Our redline was that if Iran and Syria try to convey chemical weapons or game changing weaponry to Hezbollah or other terrorist organizations, that Israel would not remain passive. We were prepared to stand by the redline, and still are.”
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.