Israel is officially neutral on the civil war in Syria, but that doesn’t mean there are no opinions as to how the outcome will affect Israel.
Former Israeli Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said on Wednesday that as distasteful as Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime is, it would still be preferable to the alternative — a takeover by al-Qaida-style extremists, according to media reports.
“The Syrian regime is killing its citizens every day,” Halutz acknowledged, “but we have to recognize that the opposition in Syria is made up primarily of Muslim extremists like al-Qaida.”
“The question ‘What is better for Israel?’ is an important question, because we need to ask ourselves if we want to swap the bad Syrian regime we know for a very bad regime that we don’t know.”
Speaking at a fundraising event in Moscow for the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, Halutz cited last week’s roadside bomb attack on an IDF patrol jeep in the northern Golan, the first such incident in 40 years.
“That’s just a small indication of what will happen if these extremists come to power,” the former IDF chief 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.”
A recent meeting between western diplomats and representatives of the opposition’s largest Islamist faction — the Syrian Islamic Front — suggest that they will have to reckon with with Islamist factions opposed to western democratic ideals.
But the prospect of Assad remaining in power with Iranian backing is not much better. It would strengthen the “belt” of Iranian influence in the region.
Furthermore, scores of Iranian-sponsored Shia militias, including Hizbullah, are currently fighting alongside the Syrian army. If they win, they will likely stay on to use Syrian territory as a base of terror operations against Israel.
Not all Israeli leaders agree with Halutz, though. Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, said earlier this year that Iran’s “bad guys” are worse for Israel than the other “bad guys.”