WASHINGTON — Breaking the self-imposed silence it maintained during the buildup to the war with Iraq and throughout the war itself, Israel publicly called on the United States this week to take decisive action against Syria and Iran.
Making the case in Washington was Ephraim Halevy, Prime Minister Sharon’s national security advisor, who formerly headed Israel’s central intelligence agency, the Mossad. In meetings with senior administration officials, Halevy focused on Syria’s weapons of mass destruction and — for the first time — on its young president, Bashar Assad, whom he described as inexperienced, irresponsible, arrogant and brash. Assad, said Halevy, is a potential source of instability in the region, warning that “a miscalculation on his part could have very serious consequences.”
On both Iran and Syria, Halevy said: “There are so many measures short of war that could be employed in containing” both countries in their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and their backing of terrorism.
In Israel, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told the Israeli daily Ma’ariv: “We have a long list of issues that we are thinking of demanding of the Syrians and it is appropriate that it should be done through the Americans.”
Halevy, who spoke at a Washington Institute for Near East Policy conference in Washington — his first public appearance before a non-Israeli audience — said Israel is gratified to see that predictions of a sharp rise in terrorism during the war, of turmoil in the Arab street and of instability in Arab regimes did not materialize. The reason, he said, was mainly America’s “show of might” and determination on the battlefield and in the diplomatic arena. These constituted a “winning combination” whose effect “has not been lost on the people of the region.”
One important result of the war, he said, is the realization in the region that “terrorist or political blackmail will not be met any longer by submission.” From now on, he said, each Arab nation will focus on its own interests.
That, Halevy said, would encourage politically moderate regimes in the region, such as the governments of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, to take the lead in the Arab world and enhance its willingness to engage in direct negotiations with Israel.
Halevy said he does not agree with prophets of doom who predict a backlash following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime — of greater terrorism, fundamentalism and instability. “I see no immediate signs of this,” he said. “I am aware of the general tendency to prefer and advocate worst-case scenarios. Recent events at least prove that better-case scenarios have an equal chance of realization.”