The country’s leaders are clashing over what constitutes a proper Israeli response to the events in Syria — where around 6,000 civilians have been killed — in the revolt against President Bashar Assad.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman believes it is time for Israel to unequivocally condemn the massacres and call for Assad to resign, while Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu prefers to remain ambiguous.
A senior Foreign Ministry source said that in recent weeks, the ministry issued a recommendation to the effect that Israel has a moral obligation to condemn the mass killings and demand Assad’s ouster.
The diplomats say that if the Arab League, the United States and the European Union are taking such a firm position against Damascus — imposing sanctions and calling for Assad’s resignation — Israel can’t espouse an unclear policy and be the last country in the West to take a stance.
This approach could give rise to conspiracy theories, especially in the Arab world, that Israel prefers to preserve the Assad regime despite the murders, Foreign Ministry staffers say.
Lieberman has embraced this recommendation and has discussed it with the prime minister and other top officials. Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak oppose the recommendation. Netanyahu believes that sharp words from Israel are more likely to spark conspiracy theories and would let Assad argue that Israel is behind the revolt.
Netanyahu’s most significant statement about Assad was made in an interview with Al-Arabiya on July 20. Netanyahu said that anything he would say about the issue “would not be used against me, but against the process of genuine reform that people would want to see in Syria. So we don’t intervene in Syria, but that doesn’t mean we are not concerned.”