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    Israeli Threats Against Assad Really Recognition That He's 'Here to Stay' – Prof

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    Israeli energy minister Yuval Steinitz has warned Damascus that Tel Aviv is willing to eliminate President Bashar Assad if he continues to allow the Iranian military to operate from his country. Speaking to Sputnik, University of Haifa national security studies program head Dr. Gabriel Ben-Dor explained Israel's position vis-à-vis its neighbor.

    Sputnik: Israel has expressed its readiness to go after Assad if the latter continues to allow Iran to operate from his country. How likely is such a scenario?

    Gabriel Ben-Dor: I don't think Israel is interested in regime change in Syria; it hasn't been and still isn't. What it is interested in is for the regime not to allow a massive Iranian military presence which is threatening Israel.

    What Israel has now said is that if continued Iranian aggression is not held responsible by the Syrian government, the Syrian government will be held accountable by Israel and its allies. So the issue is not Assad as such. The issue is 'who pays what price' for the continued Iranian aggression on Syrian soil.

    Sputnik: What is your interpretation of what was meant by Yuval Steinitz when he said that Israel would go after Assad if he continues to allow Iran to operate in the country?

    Gabriel Ben-Dor: My interpretation is that Israel is now trying to drive a wedge between Assad and the Iranians, and is telling Assad that for him to survive, it's not necessary to rely on Iran. [The message is] 'if you detach yourself from Iran, then we will not go after you and will not threaten you; you can count on us at least for neutrality, perhaps even sympathetic neutrality. But if you continue to hold the Iranian troops which are threatening Israel, you will not have immunity just because you are strong, just because you won the civil war, just because you are supported by the Iranians and of course to a great extent by Russia as well'.

    I don't think Israel is interested in having to do anything in the anti-Assad forces. We haven't done so in the past five or six years and we are not interested in that now. The difference is I think that Israel on the contrary now recognizes that Assad is here to stay, and therefore it is important to drive a wedge between him and the Iranians. That's the Israeli maneuver from the diplomatic point of view.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a Syrian man, who was wounded in the ongoing violence in Syria as he visits a military hospital located in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014
    © AP Photo / Menahem Kahana, Pool
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with a Syrian man, who was wounded in the ongoing violence in Syria as he visits a military hospital located in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014

    Sputnik: Meanwhile, we have Israel's education minister Naftali Bennett saying that Hezbollah and Lebanon are one and the same and that Israel will treat Lebanon as such in the event of any military conflict. Is Israel preparing for some kind of a military conflict?

    Gabriel Ben-Dor: Not particularly. Israel's problems with Hezbollah are with Iran. Hezbollah is important only as a client of Iran and the problem is that if Iran initiates massive military moves against Israel, Hezbollah can open up a second front. So what Israel is trying to do is to deter Hezbollah from engaging in that.

    The important thing to remember of course is that Lebanon is a sovereign state, and it is very hard for it to argue that what is happening is that a paramilitary organization firing missiles into Israel, and that the government of Lebanon is not responsible. That is just an absolutely absurd kind of notion. Israel is saying that if there is fire against Israel from Lebanese territory, then Lebanon itself is fair game, unfortunately.

    Building bombed by Israeli forces in Ghaziyeh on the road out of Sidon, south Lebanon during 2006 war.
    Building bombed by Israeli forces in Ghaziyeh on the road out of Sidon, south Lebanon during 2006 war.

    Sputnik: Do you think that the prospect of a full-blown confrontation between Israel and Iran is currently off the table?

    Gabriel Ben-Dor: No, it's not off the table unfortunately, and much of it depends on your country [Russia], which plays a key role in Syria, which is on good terms with Israel, on good terms with Iran and therefore plays an absolutely key role in trying to mediate and to bring this conflict if not to an end, at least to a kind of interval which allows diplomatic intercourse to prevent the next war.

    The views and opinions expressed by Dr. Gabriel Ben-Dor are those of the expert and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    Tags:
    recognition, warning, threat, Naftali Bennett, Yuval Steinitz, Bashar al-Assad, Lebanon, Russia, Iran, Syria, Israel
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