Assad may prevail in Syria's civil war-Israeli minister

JERUSALEM Mon Jun 10, 2013 10:08am EDT

Israel's former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz holds an interview with Reuters in Jerusalem January 2, 2013. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel's former Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz holds an interview with Reuters in Jerusalem January 2, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah, may prevail in the more than two-year-old uprising against him, Israel's intelligence minister said on Monday.

Though the assessment was quickly disavowed by others in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government, it reflected the difficulties facing Israel and Western countries in predicting Syria's destiny and weighing intervention.

Yuval Steinitz, minister for international affairs, strategy and intelligence, was asked at a briefing with foreign journalists whether recent successes by Assad's forces against outgunned rebels might herald victory for the Syrian leader.

"I always thought that it might be the case that at the end of the day Assad, with a very strong Iranian and Hezbollah backing, might gain the upper hand," Steinitz said.

"And I think that this is possible and I thought that this is possible already a long time ago."

Steinitz, who is not a member of Israel's security cabinet but does have access to intelligence updates as well as Netanyahu's ear, said Assad's government "might not just survive but even regain territories" from the rebels.

He declined to comment further on a possible Assad victory, citing Israel's policy of not meddling publicly in Syria.

"MISINFORMED"

The defense and foreign ministries received Steinitz's remarks coolly.

"This is Steinitz's personal informed - or rather, misinformed - position," said one Israeli diplomat who asked not to be named.

A senior Israeli official added: "Steinitz was giving his own assessment of the situation. The government of Israel is following the situation, while not taking any sides."

Asked if Israel had a formal intelligence forecast on Syria, the official said: "The situation changes almost daily and the assessments accordingly."

In June 2011, only three months after the Syrian uprising began with peaceful protests, then-Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the lone centrist in the previous government also led by Netanyahu, forecast Assad's fall "within weeks".

Months later, after a full-fledged insurgency had developed, a senior Israeli official said Barak had been trying to "jump the gun" and encourage Assad's foes to hasten his overthrow - an outcome that Israel viewed as inevitable at the time.

Yet the current Netanyahu government appears more cautious, given the four decades of stability Assad and his father before him had maintained on the Syrian-Israeli frontline.

Israel does not want chaos there, especially as it estimates that one in 10 of the anti-Assad rebels are radical Islamists.

Government officials also say privately they have urged Western counterparts to consider any aid to Syrian rebels carefully, lest the weaponry end up being used against Israel.

Israel has carried out at least three air strikes on Syrian sites that intelligence sources described as advanced weaponry in transit to Hezbollah. Israeli forces on the occupied Golan Heights have occasionally fired in response to Syrian gunfire when troops and rebels battle near the frontlines.

Alluding to Israel's superior military might, Steinitz said: "It is in his (Assad's) interest not to provoke us so that we get involved."

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alistair Lyon)

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Comments (5)
Brazilian1 wrote:
“Israel does not want chaos there, especially as it estimates that one in 10 of the anti-Assad rebels are radical Islamists.”

Only one in ten??? Are you sure this is what they think??? Where did you get this number from?

Jun 10, 2013 1:01pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
dieprofundis wrote:
“…outgunned rebel forces” ” …very strong Iranian and Hezbollah backing” ??? If there is an arms embargo how did the rebels/terrorists obtain arms and from whom ???? strong Iranian backing of Syrian people and sovereign government how about strong US backing of S. Arabia , Bahrain , UK and France for proven Al Queda terrorists ???
Assad’s secular govt has a constitution an elected parliament and will submit himself to 2014 elections.
Without US encouragement and proxy management this 2 yr mercenary civil war could not have continued and 80,000+ Syrians would be alive and 2mm more would have homes.
The Syrians are not defecting to the terrorists but rather fleeing from them for their lives. They are now winning on the battlefield – hich is completely undercovered by the US press.
We are going to supply the terrorists with more weapons. We have failed with our proxy war , our lies of govt use of chemicals (remember WMD’s), we have sent in a very willing Israel offered sanctuary to the terrorists in Turkey and still the Syrians fight and die for their country and govt.
Why cant we stop restore peace and let them live and have elections??
What has Syria/Assad done to us ???
Give Assad and give peace a chance. No more unlimited US support to Al Queda and their murderous thugs

Jun 10, 2013 5:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
dieprofundis wrote:
Israel does want to destabilize Syria and the ME.They want to get rid of all Syrian defensive and offensive weapons and break them up into three harmless mini-countries and eliminate any permanently annex the Golan heights. Eliminate a potential possible existential enemy and firmly re-establish their exclusive ME nuclear franchise and total regional domination ( as establishe by the US and her proxie puppets)

Jun 10, 2013 5:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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