Israel’s Intelligence and Military Strategists Show Little Consensus on Syria

Defense Establishment Not as United as it Seems

No Clear Stance: Opinions range from support for Assad’s survival to unqualified backing for his ouster, even if that means grappling with an Al-Qaeda takeover.
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No Clear Stance: Opinions range from support for Assad’s survival to unqualified backing for his ouster, even if that means grappling with an Al-Qaeda takeover.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published September 15, 2013, issue of September 20, 2013.
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Dan Schueftan

“Unfortunately, in Syria you don’t have a less-bad scenario,” claimed Dan Schueftan, who was an adviser to Ariel Sharon and is widely credited with introducing the idea of unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians, which inspired the 2005 Gaza withdrawal and the West Bank security barrier. “All scenarios are very bad.”

Schueftan is highly skeptical about any prediction of calm across Israel’s northern borders — and has been for more than 30 years. Back in 1982 the army recruited him to write a “strategic logic” for that year’s Lebanon War, which was being discussed in military circles as a chance to bring about a “new order” in Lebanon.

“I said that the words ‘order’ and ‘Lebanon’ in the same sentence is poor syntax,” he recalled. His report was distributed to the Cabinet and to senior officers, but ignored.

Today, he said, the military establishment is on the same page as he is, concluding that there are no satisfactory outcomes. There is “very little disagreement — we are all totally committed to ambiguity.”

Schueftan sees the two likely scenarios as Syria emerging from the civil war as a “failed state” with no central authority, or with Assad remaining president, with Russia and other allies acting as his “ultimate guarantor” in the international arena. “The fantasy that the rebels will win and that there will be an open-minded democratic state in Syria is not serious,” he said, describing both scenarios as “very, very bad” from an Israeli perspective.

As for the desirability of a U.S. strike, he believes that Israelis “have lost their simple-minded approach that doing something or not doing something can change the Middle East for the better.”

Schueftan said that Israel’s best hopes for a U.S. strike are that “chemical weapons will not be regarded as just another piece in your arsenal: [Syria] will realize that their use has ramifications” and that Iran will receive a warning “signal” that its actions will have consequences.

Despite his pessimism, Schueftan does not think that Israel faces greater threats in Syria than it has faced before. “I don’t think the challenges we see are more difficult than 50 years ago,” he said.

Contact Nathan Jeffay at jeffay@forward.com


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