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Israeli commander predicts that Assad will last for years

September 18, 2013|By Edmund Sanders
  • An Israeli soldier on top of his armored personnel carrier during training last week in the center of the Golan Heights, near the Israeli-Syrian border.
An Israeli soldier on top of his armored personnel carrier during training… (Atef Safadi / European Pressphoto…)

JERUSALEM -- A top Israeli commander predicted that embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad will hold on to power for years to come, but he downplayed the threat that Israel is vulnerable to the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal.

“I don’t think that we were under chemical threat even for a moment, not at all,” Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, head of the Israel Defense Forces’ northern command, said in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonot.

Golan said Assad should be removed for power on moral grounds, but predicted that the Syrian president will hang on despite the growing international pressure against him.

“He will remain for years to come,’’ Golan said. “I cannot see a force that will topple him tomorrow morning.  But he should go, and the sooner this happens, the better.”

Nevertheless, the military leader said he doubted Assad would dare attack Israel, because he’s too busy fighting for his own survival.

“I am confident that he doesn’t want to [open a front with Israel], and he isn’t really capable of doing so,’’ Golan said. “If Assad can avoid war with Israel, he will avoid it. This is also true for [Hezbollah head Hassan] Nasrallah.  I wouldn’t recommend that they put us to the test.”

Golan acknowledged the growing threat of what he said are nearly 6,000 global jihad operatives now operating in Syria, some of whom are affiliated with Al Qaeda. But he characterized them as a “relatively primitive enemy” and said Israel remains focused on Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based militant group backed by Iran.

He said Hezbollah has lost 200 fighters so far in the Syrian civil war, but has agreed to aid Assad in return for the promise of more advanced weaponry.

Israel has bombed Syrian weapons caches four times this year because it suspected the arms were about to be transferred to Hezbollah.

But Golan said he was not concerned about Syrian transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah.

“As far as we know, [Nasrallah] doesn’t want them,” the commander said.

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edmund.sanders@latimes.com

Twitter: @edmundsanders

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