Dagan: Israel should help forces trying to oust Assad

Former Mossad head frames assistance as Jewish moral imperative.

Meir Dagan 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Meir Dagan 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israel should be helping those forces trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, former Mossad head Meir Dagan said Wednesday, stopping short, however, of spelling out exactly what form that assistance should take.
Dagan’s comments are at odds with the government’s current policy, which is to condemn the violence in Syria but refrain from clearly picking sides for fear of hurting anyone Israel might be trying to help.
But speaking at President Shimon Peres’s Facing Tomorrow Conference in Jerusalem, Dagan said that as the Jewish state, Israel should be happy to see the downfall of those using brutal force against their own people.
This is a theme Dagan – who after eight years of silence as Mossad head has emerged as an ubiquitous expert commentator on panels about the Middle East – developed at greater length earlier this week in an appearance on BBC’s HARDtalk program.
In that interview, Dagan said that as a Jew whose parents survived the Holocaust, “when someone is using the might and force of a country to execute its own citizens, it is against my own morality. Anyone who can raise a voice must do it, especially the State of Israel.”
Dagan said Wednesday that Assad’s fall would weaken Iran’s regional influence, and also weaken Hezbollah, allowing Lebanon “to get to a different political situation.” What happens in Syria will impact the most on Lebanon, where Damascus has the most influence, but also will have impact on Jordan and elsewhere, he said.
Dennis Ross, the veteran State Department and White House Middle East hand now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post that the best thing Israel could do at this time regarding Syria would be to share its knowledge of what is going on inside the country with a lot of different actors, including the US, EU and even China and Russia.
Regarding the idea of Israel possibly supplying arms to the Syrian opposition, Ross said that his concern was that “if Israel is involved, it will be used against whoever is receiving the arms.”
As far as the possibility of the US providing arms to the Syrian opposition, an idea former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams raised last week in an interview with the Post, Ross said the issue was “who are you arming, and how do you ensure that you will not be facing those arms later on.”
Ross clarified that this did not mean that such an option should not be considered, but rather that it must be thought through very carefully. He said it is “pretty hard to say that [the Syrian opposition] should not be armed, when they are being attacked the way this regime is attacking the Syrian public.”
Ross declared that the US should consider imposing a “no fly, no drive” zone in northern Syria, similar to one that it once imposed on northern Iraq. He said this type of move – which would set up a safe haven in part of the country – would have the potential of changing the balance of psychology within Syria.
Creating a safe haven, he argued, would encourage people to go there and accelerate the process of defection from the Syrian security forces.
“Somewhere along the line there is going to be a tipping point that accelerates the departure of Assad,” he said, “and I think this is one of the things that could do it.”