A man wrapped in a Syrian flag with a portrait of Assad
A Syrian man wrapped in a Syrian flag with a portrait of Assad seen at an anti-Israel demonstration in Tehran, May 6, 2013. Photo by AP
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Reuters
A man stands in a damaged street filled with rubble in Deir al-Zor, May 18, 2013. Photo by Reuters

A Friday report in the Times of London, according to which Israel prefers the regime of Bashar Assad than see a takeover of the country by rebel Islamist militants, is untrue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a meeting of Likud ministers on Sunday.

"The statements attributed to an Israeli intelligence officer do not represent the Israeli government's position," Netanyahu said, according to a source present at the meeting.

The prime minister stressed that Israel is not intervening in the Syrian civil war and is not taking a position concerning who should rule the country.

"I don't think there is anyone in Israel eager to take action" in Syria, Tzipi Livni, a member of Netanyahu's security cabinet and a former foreign minister told Army Radio on Sunday, hinting at concerns that any strike could provoke a wider conflict.

Livni also said that Israeli politicians ought to avoid taking sides. "Israel isn't popular in Syria. Therefore any such statement could only be used as ammunition by one of the sides to try and divert the debate or the violence toward Israel and that's the last thing we need," she said.

The Israeli official told the Times: "Better the devil we know than the demons we can only imagine if Syria falls into chaos, and the extremists from across the Arab world gain a foothold there."

According to the Times, the senior intelligence officer in the north of Israel said a weakened but stable Syria under Assad is not only better for Israel but for the region as a whole.

Another defense official was quoted saying it is more likely than initially estimated that Assad will remain in power.

“We originally underestimated Assad’s staying power and overestimated the rebels’ fighting power,” the source said.

The report in the Times comes a day after the United States said the Russian missile shipment to Syria will embolden Assad and prolong the conflict.