By Samuel Burke, CNN
Doing nothing about alleged chemical weapons use is the wrong message to send to Syria’s leader, General Gabi Ashkenazi told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exuclsive interview that aired Tuesday.
“Lethal assistance,” is one of the options the West could consider, Ashkenazi suggested. “Weapons, in order to help them to topple Assad, to take him down. [And] maybe impose a no-fly zone in, at least, part of Syria.”
Ashkenazi led the Israel Defense Forces during four crucial years from 2007 to 2011 and granted Amanpour a rare interview – his first-ever on-camera outside of Israel.
That country has been keeping a keen eye on what's happening in neighboring Syria, though Ashkenazi said that if President Assad falls it would present a “mixed picture for” the Jewish state.
If Assad is ousted it could break the access that Iran has to Hezbollah and Hamas through Damascus, which Israel would like to see.
“It will be a major blow to Iran and Hezbollah. Hezbollah will be more restrained. People should understand that Syria was and still is the logistic hub of Hezbollah. And most of the weaponry which Hezbollah possess came from Syrian depots. The money came from Iran, but the rockets came from Syrian depots,” Ashkenazi told Amanpour.
The West should have been providing more assistance to Syrians before the civil war spiraled to its current state, Ashkenazi said.
“Maybe a year and a half ago, when we had 10,000 deaths and less foreigners coming from Chechnya or Iraq or whatever and more extremists affiliated with al Qaeda, like Jabhat al-Nusra and others. But that's the situation right now,” he said.
Still time to deal with Iran
Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan has reported that when Ashkenazi was head of the I.D.F., Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak asked him to draw up a plan to attack Iran. Dayan reported that Ashkenazi opposed the order.
“In one specific case, [they wanted] to increase the readiness of the option. And that's what we did,” Ashkenazi said, but he said he encouraged the Israeli leaders to avoid using the military option.
“The question was then whether it was the correct time to consider military options. And we were part of the discussion. And we made our recommendation to the cabinet. And my opinion then was that we still have time,” Ashkneazi told Amanpour.
So was a plan ever drawn up to attack Iran?
“Eventually we decided not to do it,” he said. “I think [the] military option is the last resort. Unless the sword is literally on your throat – you don't use it if you still have time to exploit other options.”
Ashkenazi’s role in the Turkish flotilla incident
Israel and Turkey’s relationship suffered a major rupture following the Gaza flotilla raid in 2010. Now, President Obama seems to have brokered a rapprochement between Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey.
“We tried to stop them. And we did everything in our power to ask them to stop,” Ashkenazi said.
Some quarters have called for indictments, including one against Ashkenazi.
“Being a general in the I.D.F., it comes with the job.” he said “I hope this current reconciliation and the negotiation will bring it to an end.”
Ashkenazi believes that resulting problems left between Israel and Turkey are solvable.
“I think it's important to fix the relationship with Erdogan,” he said.
The biggest threat to Israel?
Amanpour asked Ashkenazi what the biggest risk facing the state of Israel is today and he said it is not external affairs, but rather the internal problems that were exposed in Israel’s most recent elections.
Divisions over orthodoxy and religious Jews’ exemption from military service were key issues in those elections.
“We have to rearticulated our narrative as Israelis to see that we have [a] more cohesive society, sharing duties and rights together – the way we used to be 30-40 years ago,” he said. “I think that's the real challenge.”