Analysis: Wishful thinking or faulty intelligence?

Barak’s repeated predictions on Assad’s demise may have been premature.

Arab Israelis protest Syrian Assad 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Arab Israelis protest Syrian Assad 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Is it wishful thinking or based on poor intelligence assessments? Either way, Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s predictions regarding the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad do not seem to have been so accurate and are also not shared by his counterparts in the Pentagon.
A review by The Jerusalem Post of Barak’s comments on Assad’s fate reveals that the defense minister has been making predictions for over half-a-year that Assad will fall within weeks or months, even when US intelligence officials claim that Assad’s regime is stable.
On Thursday, for example, Lt.-Gen. Ronald Burgess, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Pentagon, told the Senate’s Armed Services Committee that despite the ongoing upheaval in Syria, Assad’s regime was stable.
“After 10 months of unrest, the regime and opposition in Syria are in a stalemate; however, the regime is cohesive,” Burgess said in his prepared statement to the committee.
“The Syrian military, despite some desertions and defections to the armed opposition, on the whole remains a viable, cohesive, and effective force.”
That same day, Barak’s office released a statement following his meeting with Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka in Tokyo. Assad, Barak told Tanaka, would fall “within weeks.”
Barak’s public predictions regarding Assad’s fate began in June when he attended the Paris Air Show. Speaking to the Associated Press, Barak said that Assad would probably fall in three to six months.
“He probably will stay around for another quarter or two but that will not change his fate,” Barak said on June 20, meaning that six months would have been some time in December.
On November 19, during a gathering of defense ministers in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Barak said that Assad would not remain in power for long. Two weeks later, on December 6, Barak said during a tour of the Golan Heights that Assad will fall, although he did not know if it will take “a few weeks or months.”
Five days later, at the World Policy Conference in Vienna, Barak decided it would take weeks. Assad’s downfall, he added, would be a “blessing for the Middle East.” Three days later, on December 14 and ahead of a trip to the United States, Barak told The Washington Post that “it might take many weeks, but it’s not a matter of months or years.”
A day later, he told a class of schoolchildren in Washington that Assad would be gone before Passover, which begins on April 6. A few weeks after that, on January 2, Barak repeated his earlier prediction in a briefing to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“The Assad family has no more than a few weeks to remain in control in Syria,” he said.
So when will Assad fall? The answer is still unclear, but what is noticeable is that Barak is the only Israeli official issuing such forecasts. In interviews to TV stations on Saturday night, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, for example, shied away from predicting when Assad’s regime will collapse.
Ultimately, Israel believes that it will happen, although it could still take some time.
The two main factors are the stability of the Syrian economy – Assad is receiving unprecedented support from Iran – and the ongoing defections in his military. Unless “weeks” means months, Assad’s fall might take longer than the defense minister thinks.
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