Israel's Vice PM: Fall of Assad Could Weaken Mideast 'Axis of Evil'

Moshe Ya’alon tells Army Radio that Israel won't interfere in Syria politics, but that end of President's regime could bring ‘relatively moderate’ Sunni elements into power.

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Haaretz
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Haaretz

Israel has not and is not interfering in the political crisis in Syria, Vice Prime Minister and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said on Sunday, adding that he did not think radical Islam would take over the country in case Syrian President Bashar Assad is ousted.

Ya’alon’s comments came as Russia and China vetoed on Saturday a Western-Arab UN Security Council resolution backing an Arab League call for Assad to step aside.

Moshe Ya'alon at Herzliya Conference, Feb. 2, 2012.Credit: Tal Nissim

The other 13 council members voted in favor of the resolution, which would have said that the council "fully supports" the Arab League plan.

Speaking to Army Radio on Sunday, Ya’alon referred to claims that Israel was sustaining Assad’s rule in wake of political turmoil in Syria, saying: “That’s factually untrue because Israel never took a stand saying it was interested in the survival of Assad’s regime.”

The vice prime minister also spoke of the aftermath of Assad’s possible ouster, saying that “there could be different developments in such a situation, some of which could be positive as far as Israel is concerned, like a fissure in the Tehran-Damascus-Beirut-Hamas axis of evil.”

“There’s a difference between Syria and Egypt,” Ya’alon said, referring to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, adding that the “Brotherhood’s power in Syria is much less significant.”

“I don’t see a Muslim Brotherhood regime [rising in Syria], I see a relatively moderate Sunni regime based on an intellectual middle class, not the Muslim Brotherhood,” Ya’alon added.

When asked when he felt Assad would be forced to step down, the vice PM said that it was “hard to estimate, but we’re saying again and again what’s clear to anyone following the situation in Syria. Assad is losing his legitimacy and it’s a matter of both time and of lives lost.”

In the Army Radio interview, Ya’alon was also asked whether Israel was contacting the Syrian opposition, to which the top Israeli official said: “Whether there’s contact or not, you don’t expect me to discuss these things in the media.”

Ya’alon also referred to comments he made during the Herzliya Conference last week, according to which a military strike could hit all of Iran’s nuclear facilities and that "any facility protected by humans can be infiltrated by humans.”

His comments came following a report citing U.S. officials as saying that the Pentagon lacked conventional arms powerful enough to pierce some of Iran’s more well protected plants.

“We saw the development in the defensive abilities of tanks along the years and counter development of anti-tank missiles,” Ya’alon told Army Radio on Sunday, adding that last week’s statement was “an axiom. There’s no doubt that whatever humans develop, another human can crack.”

According to the vice PM, the U.S. officials cited in the recent report also “spoke of being busy developing,” adding that “eventually humans will reach the capability of penetrating the bunkers in this case too.”

Also speaking on Sunday, Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV that a military intervention in Syria could “ignite the entire region.”

Vahidi expressed what he said was dismay at the decision to pass the Syria crisis to discussion at the UN Security Council, especially as the Arab League’s observer mission was under way.

According to the Iranian defense minister, Russia and China vetoed a resolution against Syria’s Assad since they were aware of a western plot to divide the Middle East.

Vahidi also spoke of recent sanctions imposed against Iran and its nuclear program, saying that Tehran was evaluating all the possibilities, and was preparing itself to all of them, including to an armed conflict.

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