An Israeli Intelligence Assessment: If U.S. Punishes Syria a Bit vs. Trying to Topple Assad — What’s Better? What’s More Dangerous to Israel?

While not openly taking sides with anyone in the civil war in neighboring Syria, Israel does believe that it’s “very important” that President Bashar al-Assad not be the ultimate winner — because he is a close ally of Iran and Hezbollah.

Amos Yadlin at his INSS

That declaration is clear in a policy snapshot by retired air force general Amos Yadlin — who until 2011 was head of Israel’s Military Intelligence (Aman), the largest agency in the Israeli intelligence community.

Yadlin has co-authored an assessment of what would be best for Israel: a short and limited campaign of airstrikes by the United States against chemical-weapons-related targets in Syria? or a wider, much more emphatic effort to topple Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus?

Yadlin published his conclusions through the Institute for National Security Studies (in Tel Aviv), which he heads, along with a colleague, Avner Golov.

It’s highly likely that Gen. Yadlin’s frame of analysis and conclusions are similar to those of the top Israeli intelligence analysts now delivering their classified conclusions to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Clearly this point of view is rooting for President Obama to carry out airstrikes on Syria — an event that is, at the very least, delayed now until Congress debates and votes on the matter.

Yadlin and Golov write that’s it’s in Israel’s interests that…

(a) The U.S. show unequivocally that there is a high price to pay for using non-conventional weapons.

(b) The U.S. restore its strategic deterrence and credibility in the Middle East.

(c) Israel do everything possible not to be dragged into Syria’s civil war.

(d) Iran should see “that Washington is determined to uphold the President’s promises. President Obama’s actions and the cooperation he achieves with Western and regional allies will have implications for the Iranian nuclear issue.”

Yadlin mentions that one happy outcome of the Syrian civil war, in the end, could be the establishment of a pro-Western, moderate government in Damascus. Then Syria’s support for terrorist organizations would almost surely end. Yadlin’s study says Israel — in the past — considered giving up the Golan Heights in order to achieve that. Now it might be achieved without handing over territory.

Big U.S. Attack or a Small One?

Yadlin and Golov write that if the U.S. strikes, say, 50 targets for two days, “A limited but successful attack that is backed up by U.S. determination to prevent the use of non-conventional weapons would restore some American deterrent power against the use of chemical weapons and to a certain extent would enhance American standing in the region.

“Such an attack could also influence decisionmaking in Tehran. Thus, the expected [smaller] scenario regarding an American attack would promote some of Israel’s interests, especially those connected with U.S. deterrent power in the region, albeit to a limited extent only.”

And what if the U.S., perhaps propelled by sentiments expressed by Congress next week, decides to bomb a lot more extensively — with a goal of destabilizing and forcing out the Assad regime?

That would do a lot more restore America’s credibility and “deterrent power” — “and would convey a clear message of American determination to Tehran,” in Yadlin’s words — but there would also be two significant risks to Israel.

Quoting the INSS study: “The first and immediate risk is that Assad might decide to launch ground-to-ground missiles at Israel, and perhaps even arm them with chemical weapons. However, given Israel’s deterrent power and the limited effectiveness of chemical weapons, there is little likelihood of this scenario taking place — although it is more likely here than in the punishment scenario described above.

“Moreover, despite the low probability, its severity requires that the Israeli government prevent such an attack, or if it fails, that it limit its consequences.”

The other risk is that if Assad is unstable or gone, terrorism threats to Israel could actually grow. Yadlin says terrorist groups in Syria (which he makes a point of saying are funded mainly by Qatar — to some a moderate country that owns Al Jazeera TV, for instance) would likely seize control of areas that they could use as bases for attacks into Israel.

In part of the conclusions by Yadlin and Golov, they write: “Israel has the power to cope with the potential challenges discussed above, and in particular, the non-conventional threat and the threat of terrorism from Syria. To this end, Israel should adhere to a policy in which it is not a party to the turmoil in Syria and does not plan to intervene in the civil war.

“The government of Israel has maintained this posture thus far, and it is very important that this continue, even if there is some provocation on the northern border.”


September 1, 2013

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