Israel prefers Syrian President Bashar al-Assad remaining in power rather than see radical Islamist forces take over the war-torn country with which it has longstanding territorial disputes, former Chief of StaffDan Halutz has said.
Halutz, who served as IDF chief of staff during the 2006 military campaign in Lebanon, told a gathering in Moscow that the prospect of al-Qaeda-affiliated elements ruling Damascus in place of the Assad regime would be more problematic from Jerusalem's standpoint, Ma'ariv reported.
"The regime in Syria is killing its citizens on a daily basis, but we need to admit that the opposition in Syria is comprised primarily of very extremist Muslims like al-Qaeda," the former Israel Defence Forces (IDF) chief was quoted by Ma'ariv as saying.
"The question that needs to be asked is, 'What is good for Israel?', It's an important question, because we need to ask ourselves if we want to replace this bad regime with a verybad regime which we don't know. And this is something that we need to seriously consider," he pondered.
Israel's official position has been that it will not intervene in the Syrian civil war, which it views as Syria's internal matter, until and unless it is forced to do so. While Halutz does not hold a formal government title, his statement is considered unusual given his access to and familiarity with the highest levels of Israel's political and military establishment, the Jerusalem Post reported.
Speaking at a fundraising event held in Moscow for the Sheba Medical Centre at Tel Hashomer, Halutz mentioned last Saturday's roadside bomb attack which caused damage to an IDF patrol jeep in the northern Golan Heights, the first such incident to take place in 40 years, as an illustration to drive his argument.
"That's just a small indication of what will happen if these extremists come to power," the former IDF chief said.
"As of now, it appears that the international community understands that they cannot unseat the Assad regime as long as they do not know what will follow. Right now, it looks as if the alternative (to Assad) is a regime that would destabilise regional security," he added.