Former Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, planned to help Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad, return to a good standing in the international community and for countries to normalise relations with the regime again, according to a report by the Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom.
The alleged initiative came to light when, according to the report, current Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, recently cancelled his predecessor’s plan to return Assad to the international community, which was to be conducted in exchange for the withdrawal of Iranian militias and military elements from Syria.
Reportedly initiated at a summit held in the city of Jerusalem three years ago – attended by US, Israeli and Russian national security advisers – Netanyahu’s plan was based on the assumption that the Syrian regime had gained supremacy over all opposition groups by recapturing much of its territory throughout the war, and that it no longer needed Iran-backed ground forces.
According to the newspaper, it had learned from an anonymous Israeli official that the country’s then-National Security Adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, introduced a multi-step plan to his then-American counterpart, John Bolton, and the head of Russia’s Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, which aimed to see Assad call for all foreign forces to withdraw from Syria – including his allies.
“In the diplomatic system, the belief was that in the conditions that were created, the acceptance of Assad from here, and the ousting of Iran from here was the best possible result we could achieve,” the senior Israeli official was reported as saying.
Following that withdrawal, Syria would have then been accepted back into the Arab League and would have been heavily invested in by Arab Gulf states, especially the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The plan would not have come without political demands, however, as it aimed to get Damascus to conduct a series of reforms which would have been agreed upon in the Austrian capital Vienna, after which there would be elections to determine the Syrian leadership.
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Netanyahu approved that plan and invited Arab states which have relations with Israel to support the initiative, of which Jordan and Egypt were reportedly very much in favour. The official said that although “there was agreement among the various countries that this was the right thing to do … as a result of the frequent election campaigns in Israel, and the regime change in the US and Israel later on, the process did not progress”.
There was also the issue of whether Assad was even able to achieve the withdrawal of Iranian forces from the country due to a lack of sufficient manpower, which Tel Aviv and Washington particularly did not believe was possible. In those circumstances, international involvement was discussed.
“There is no other way of removing the Iranians from Syria. Only a combination of military strikes and a diplomatic process can make them retreat. In this plan, the objective was the creation of the delegitimisation of the Iranian presence in Syria,” the official revealed. “To that end, the support of, and agreement between the US and Russia was necessary, first and foremost, and they were indeed achieved”.
In the end, the report states, the plan was abandoned, not only due to the change in Israeli and American governments but also because it seemed increasingly unfeasible. “A situation could be created in which we lose either way. We will both be partners to ‘koshering’ Assad and be left with the Iranians in Syria,” the official concluded.
“The Iranians are there at his request, and it is difficult to see a scenario in which he calls on them to leave. Therefore, from our perspective, this story is an internal Arab affair. We aren’t part of it”.
Disclaimer: Ex-Israel PM Netanyahu planned to help Assad in return for ousting Iran from Syria - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Latheefarook.com point-of-view