Israel Changes Stance on Syria, Now Favors Toppling Assad

Article Summary
Paul Salem argues that the recent armed clashes in Tripoli are an extension of the Syrian revolution’s sectarian issues. Lebanon’s official policy of neutrality is being tested, as the country’s own sects are mobilizing in support of or against the revolution. The Mikati government may also be under Syrian pressure to support the Assad regime. 

Israeli military intelligence director Major-General Aviv Kochavi recently concluded a round of talks in Washington and New York with US and United Nations officials. The Israeli daily Haaretz cited a European diplomat with information on these talks, who stated that Kochavi confirmed to the US that the Israeli intelligence community had changed its stance in recent months regarding the events in Syria and the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Kochavi noted that the Israeli intelligence community previously believed that for Assad to remain in power would benefit Israel; this is no longer the case.

The newspaper revealed that two weeks ago, Kochavi embarked on a secret visit to Washington before heading to the United Nations headquarters in New York. During his trip, he mainly discussed Iran and the progress being made on resolving the issue of its nuclear program and the talks underway between powerful countries and Iran on this topic. He also discussed the crisis in Syria, the fate of its regime and the growing military capabilities of Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The paper added that while in Washington, Kochavi met with senior officials in the White House, the Department of Defense and the CIA. Kochavi was cited as saying that he believes it is possible to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to work with the West for regime change in Syria. Haaretz added that Kochavi also met with ambassadors from the UN Security Council countries in New York, and briefed them on the status of the Iranian issue and the situations in Syria and Lebanon.

The Israeli intelligence chief believes that "Assad's fate is sealed, and the only question now is how long the regime will stay in power." He said that toppling Assad's regime might take a few more months.

The newspaper stated that during a similar visit to Washington and New York that took place a year ago, Kochavi met with the ambassadors of the UN Security Council countries, and expressed concern that if Assad's regime were toppled, Hezbollah might be able to seize advanced weaponry belonging to the Syrian army.

One Israeli official with an insider look into the talks held by Kochavi in New York said that the latter met with senior officials from the UN peacekeeping forces, who are responsible for the Unite Nations Interim Force in Lebanaon (INIFL). Kochavi allegedly warned them of Hezbollah’s rising influence in southern Lebanon. During the meeting, he stressed that "internal tensions in Lebanon and the instability in Syria will further escalate the situation."

He added that Israel is concerned over the recent changes in the makeup of UNIFIL forces in southern Lebanon. Israel's main concern is the decrease in the total number of UNIFIL soldiers, which are mainly dispatched by European powers such as France, Spain and Italy, due to the economic crisis taking place in these countries. The Israeli official stated that these soldiers were "replaced by soldiers from Muslim countries, like Indonesia, and Israel fears that they will not take necessary measures against Hezbollah."

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