A significant change from Israel’s earlier diplomatic diffidence on the fate of the Bashar al-Assad regime — and perhaps about three weeks late. Israel’s US Ambassador Michael Oren tells the Jerusalem Post that the Assad regime and its ties to Tehran are more dangerous than a takeover by the al-Qaeda affiliates in Syria battling the Assad army and its militias:
“The initial message about the Syrian issue was that we always wanted [President] 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 to 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.”
The Netanyahu government had expressed hope that Assad and his alliance to Iran would exit soon, but had remained quiet in the debate over chemical weapons. When US politicians tried to use Israel as an argument for all sides of the question of the response to the August 21st chemical-weapons attack, Israel would only publicly state that it could handle its own defense regardless of what the Obama administration decided to do about Syria. If Israel had publicly spoken about their desire to see Assad fall even with AQ-affiliated terrorist networks taking control, would that have boosted Barack Obama’s chances of getting Congressional authorization for military strikes? Possibly; it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.
Oren also issued a red-line warning on behalf of Israel:
Amid reports that Assad may be moving some of his chemical weapons arsenal out of the country, Oren reiterated Israel’s position that it will not tolerate attempts to transfer these arms – or game changing weapons – to Hezbollah.
“The chemical weapons were an American red line, it wasn’t an Israel red line,” Oren said. “Our red line 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 red line, and still are.”
Israel has already launched a strike against Hezbollah during the conflict that was intended to halt such a transfer. Reports over the last couple of weeks have Assad moving the chemical weapons, but Oren tells the Post that he isn’t shifting them to Hezbollah or other terrorist groups. Presumably, Assad will now leave them in place for the inspection and disarmament process, but only if he’s serious about it — and no one really believes he will be.
That apparently includes the Russians, who insisted today that the deal for inspections will not include an option for military intervention if Assad fails to comply:
BREAKING Russia says UN resolution on Syria weapons will not allow use of force
— Agence France-Presse (@AFP) September 17, 2013