Israeli Defense Minister Worried About Stability in Syria

Moshe Ya’alon fears chaos could spread to Jordan

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon / AP
June 14, 2013

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon gave a broad assessment of Israel’s security policy in the Middle East during a breakfast discussion at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy on Friday.

The defense minister said he "can’t see stability in the near future" in Syria, noting that the worst-case scenario for Israel would be one in which al Qaeda elements cause further destabilization in the region, particularly in Jordan.

"We do not intervene, we do not interfere," he said. "We are in a very sensitive position of course so any Israeli intervention might affect the side we might support."

"From our standpoint what should be very clear that Jordan is an asset in the Middle East in terms of stability," he added. "That’s why we support it and we actually believe Jordan should be supported by the United States by other allies in order to keep Jordan as a stabilizer in the region."

Ya’alon said the Israeli government has not asked the United States not to arm the anti-Assad forces.

"We are not in a position to dictate or to ask the United States what to do in Syria, but that doesn’t mean there are no consultations," Ya’alon said.

He said Israel was troubled by Russia providing weapons for Bashar al-Assad’s forces, but said it has not seriously damaged the relationship between the two countries.

"We are not happy with all the Russian activities in the region, we have our opportunity to make our comments about it," Ya’alon said. "I believe that when we look to the Russian policy, it’s not against us. ... The main considerations are not Israel, the main considerations are what they call the ‘superpowers game’ between Russia and the United States."

On Iran, the defense minister said the West needs to show that it has the "political stomach to go all the way" if it wants to force the regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

He said the recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which said that Iran has made progress on its program but has not yet reached Israel’s "red line" of producing 250 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium, suggests that "it may be Iran has internalized Netanyahu’s red line which is why they have avoided reaching [it]."

Ya’alon also addressed the Obama administration’s efforts to renew Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, reiterating that Israel is willing to come to the table without preconditions.

"We say from the very beginning we’re ready to sit at the table immediately," Ya’alon said. "[The Palestinians] want to get something for coming to the table."

The defense minister said that the United States should use its leverage of Palestinian aid money in order to influence the actions of Palestinian leaders.

"We believe regarding incitement, the money given to the Palestinian Authority should be conditioned," Ya’alon said. "There are many leverages on behalf of the West, especially the money."

Ya’alon said he was "very optimistic" about Israel’s future.

"My optimism is based on what I know about our strengths," he concluded. "[Israel’s] very well-known secrets, our brains and our hearts."