IDF chief: No matter who wins in Syria, Israel loses

Benny Gantz says the choice is between Assad and Iran or jihadist radicals with ties to al-Qaeda

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz on Wednesday shared a bleak outlook on the internal conflict in Syria and its repercussions for Israel, characterizing the ongoing civil war as a lose-lose situation for Israel.

“Heads or tails,” Gantz said, describing the almost three-year war in terms of a coin toss, “the result is negative either way.”

“If [Syrian President Bashar] Assad survives he is beholden to the radical axis, to Iran and Hezbollah which bolster him,” he elaborated. “If Assad falls, he will be replaced by global jihadists or other organizations.”

Even if Assad does emerge from the conflict on top, Gantz asserted, he will not regain full control of Syria, leaving the door open for other extremist elements.

Speaking at an event at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Gantz said that Israel’s strategic reality was changing, and the country would have to adapt. “Every one of our borders is tested more than in the past,” he said. “The [neighboring] nations as we know them and the borders as we know them exist de jure but it is doubtful that they exist de facto.”

On Saturday a senior Israeli intelligence official told the Associated Press that more than 30,000 al-Qaeda linked fighters were active in Syria, a huge increase over previous Western estimates. He claimed that the Islamic rebel groups in Syria currently focused on toppling Assad intend to turn their sights on Israel after dispatching the Syrian government.

“The longer the war in Syria continues, the more jihadists and radicals are coming to this territory,” the official said.

The jihadis currently control most of the Syrian territory that directly borders Israel, although they have not fired rockets or missiles at Israeli territory.

On Sunday night Lebanese sources reported an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian coastal city of Latakia. Citing Western sources, the Palestinian Zamn Press news website reported that Israeli planes carried out the attack, targeting a warehouse of S-300 missiles. Israeli news sources also cited Syrian opposition reports and Lebanese media reports in reporting that Israeli planes were involved in the attack.

The IDF did not respond to requests for comment and there was no independent confirmation of Israeli involvement.

Israel has been accused of striking Syrian sites in the past, including in January and May 2013. Israel refused to confirm the reports that it targeted weapons transfers, possibly to the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, which has remained loyal to Assad during the country’s bloody civil war.

AP and Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.

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