The incoming IDF Chief of Staff, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi, reportedly was in favor of getting rid of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, by assassination if necessary, according to Saudi Arabia’s Elaph newspaper.
The paper quoted an unnamed senior Israeli military source, who said that Kochavi, then director of Military Intelligence, believed that Assad’s support for the terrorist organization Hezbollah justified his ouster by any means.
Kochavi was quoted as saying that the continued existence of the Assad regime “would bring calamities to Israel from Iran, Hezbollah, the militias and Russian influence in the region.”
However, his position was not accepted in the Security Cabinet. In particular, Mossad director Yossi Cohen opposed such action because he “wanted an address in Syria,” someone Israel could communicate with, by back channels if need be, as it had done with Assad.
The “prolonged conflict in Syria saw Israel often hold negotiations with the regime in Damascus in order to reach an agreement in Syria,” the report quoted the official as saying, adding that the diplomatic-security cabinet “held extensive discussions on the situation about Syria and decided that Israel would not allow an Iranian military presence there.”
Subsequently, Israel passed up several opportunities to target Assad and his top officials during the eight-year-long civil war, but instead made the prevention of Iranian entrenchment in Syria its priority, “while making sure it [Israel] inflicts minimal damage to the Damascus regime.”
The Israeli source told Elaph that recent discussions by the security cabinet on the Syrian situation have stressed that Israel will not accept any sort of Iranian military presence in Syria and “would do everything necessary to expel Iran from Syria, at any cost.”
The JPost reported that Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over the growing Iranian presence on its borders and the smuggling of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah in Lebanon, from Tehran via Syria, stressing that both are redlines for the Jewish state.
Working to prevent the entrenchment of Iranian forces and the transfer of advanced weaponry to Hezbollah, the Israel Air Force has admitted to carrying out hundreds of airstrikes in Syria.
The JPost reported that in a rare interview, Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told Elaph in October that the expansion of Iranian influence across the Middle East is a major concern to both Israel and Saudi Arabia.
“The Iranian plan is to control the Middle East by means of two Shi’ite crescents,” Eisenkot said, “the first being from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon, and the second across the Gulf from Bahrain to Yemen to the Red Sea. We must stop that from happening.”
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