ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 58

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Ya’alon: Israeli intervention could hurt ‘side we might support’ in Syria

Curious comment comes ahead of defense minister’s meeting in Washington with US counterpart Hagel

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon visits the IDF Northern Command, April 2, 2013 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon visits the IDF Northern Command, April 2, 2013 (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)

Israel will not intervene in Syria, in part because any such intervention could harm the side Israel favors, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said, somewhat curiously, on a visit to the US.

“We don’t intervene, we do not interfere,” Ya’alon said in Washington prior to a meeting Friday with his US counterpart, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “Any Israel intervention might affect the side that we might support, not for its benefit,” he told the Washington Institute for Near East Policy

It was not entirely clear what Ya’alon meant by “the side that we might support,” since Israel has said repeatedly that it is not taking sides in the Syrian conflict.

Israel has said it backs the American demand that Syrian President Bashar Assad step down, a move that would wound Israel’s most dangerous rival in the region, Iran, as well as Hezbollah, the potent terrorist force in Lebanon. On the other hand, Israel appreciates the quiet that successive generations of Assads have ensured on its border, and fears the rise of Islamists among rebels in that country.

“I can’t see stability in the near future,” Ya’alon also said, noting he could not predict the outcome of the internal conflict that has caused over 90,000 deaths in Syria.

Heavy violence has characterized the sectarian conflict between both domestic factions as well as outside forces such as Hezbollah, Iran, and groups associated with al-Qaeda. Even if Assad does fall, the country will be left in chaos, Ya’alon said.

“We can’t see any conclusion in the current situation, with Assad or without Assad,” he told the D.C.-based Washington think tank. “[There is a] very hostile relationship between the sectors which will affect the future of Syria for a very, very long period of time.”

Ya’alon’s remarks come as the Obama administration says it is ready to increase military support for the rebels.

Ya’alon said the red lines that would trigger Israeli actions in Syria are cross-border fire and the transfer of chemical and strategic weapons.

He added that the worst possible outcome in Syria would be “a chaotic situation, but we can manage it.”

Ya’alon called for increased western and US support of Jordan, which has absorbed most of the refugees fleeing bloodshed in Syria.

“Whether it will remain as a political entity, or divided into sectarian enclaves with sectarian leadership, or whether in chaos for a very long period of time… all of us should look to our interests,” he said.

Ya’alon was bluntly dismissive of Obama administration efforts to restart the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, blaming the Palestinian insistence on a settlement freeze before talks start again for the failure of the process.

He also dismissed as “just spin” the recently revived 2002 Arab peace initiative favored by the Obama administration.

Ya’alon said US-Israel defense and intelligence cooperation was close, and that he believed it was still possible to keep Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapons through peaceful means.

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