Yaalon: Israel Is Now Neutral on Assad Staying

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters/Hamodia) -
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (C), chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi (R), and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset on Tuesday. (Issac Harari/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (C), chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Tzachi Hanegbi (R), and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkott at a Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting at the Knesset on Tuesday. (Issac Harari/Flash90)

Israel is no longer taking a public position on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s prospects of staying in power, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Tuesday, citing the opposing goals of the United States and Russia as they intervene in the civil war.

Seeing enemies on all sides of the insurgency that erupted in the neighboring Arab state in 2011, Israel has been formally neutral but initially called for Assad to be toppled, arguing this would deny Iran a key ally in the region.

But with Assad holding on and now helped by a Russian military intervention, Israel has shifted.

“What is our policy in Syria? We say: We do not intervene. We have an opinion as to what we would like to be there. But we are not in a position nor do we have the status, for sensitive reasons, to say we are in favor of Assad or against Assad,” Yaalon said in a speech.

At a rare but inconclusive round of talks in Vienna on Friday that brought together many of the main countries involved in Syria, “the Russians were in favor [of Assad], the Americans were against, the Turks were against, the Saudis were against, the Iranians were in favor,” Yaalon said.

“We are not at that level. We deal with our own interests,” he said, reiterating “red lines” that Israel says will trigger military action by it if crossed — attacks from Syria or attempted transfers to Hizbullah or other terrorists of advanced weapons systems or chemical warfare agents.

Yaalon was speaking three days after international media reports of Israeli air strikes in Syrian airspace, attacking Hizbulah targets in the Qalamoun mountain region near the Lebanese border, possibly to intercept a weapons convoy to Lebanon.