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Rare interview with former head of the Israeli military

April 30th, 2013
07:06 PM ET

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.”


Filed under:  Israel • Latest Episode
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Hans

    who cares about the antisemite Amanpour

    May 1, 2013 at 3:30 am | Reply
    • Mikie

      In what way, or do these terms just roll out of your mouth?

      May 1, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  2. :::_India_Nudge_Network_:::

    with that Khakhi shirt and epaulettes Christian Amanpour has dressed for the occasion. She looks like a IDF soldier herself!

    May 1, 2013 at 3:35 am | Reply
  3. Yinka Adekanye

    How can a leader order the mass killing of his people by all means for so long and the world seems helpless? For how long will selfish economic interest influence our decision to act? Enlightened self interest of the collective demands removal of this beast of Syria now.

    May 1, 2013 at 6:40 am | Reply
  4. redwood509

    It could help if the reporter did some reading before doing her "sensational" interviews with heavy breathngs:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gabi_Ashkenazi

    "his mother had immigrated from Syria"., saved, smuggled to Northern Israel, during WW2.
    Not a ounce of curiosity about this aspect in this opportunity-why they had to leave?

    May 1, 2013 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • felix ahadzi

      It is only proper for the US or the world body act under a UN resolution to intervene on humanitarian grounds to serve the situation in Syria. Syria is at the moment a failing state and if care is not taken the war has a potetial of infesting the whole of the region.
      One reason makes it apt for the removal of the Assad's regime; the slaughter of unarmed civilians through the use of bombs and now lethal chemicals have make the regime to lost legitimacy and by that the people have the right to form a new government. The world must assist the peopie of Syria.

      May 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  5. Mikie

    An Israeli encouraging war and violence? NO WAY can't be.

    May 1, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  6. felix ahadzi

    It is only proper for the US or the world body act under a UN resolution to intervene on humanitarian grounds to serve the situation in Syria. Syria is at the moment a failing state and if care is not taken the war has a potetial of infesting the whole of the region.
    One reason makes it apt for the removal of the Assad's regime; the slaughter of unarmed civilians through the use of bombs and now lethal chemicals have make the regime to lost legitimacy and by that the people have the right to form a new government. The world must assist the peopie of Syria.

    May 1, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  7. Joseph Olarewaju

    For the sake of Humanity I think it is time for UN to intervene and bring down that awkward President of Syria who because of power and selfishness commiting gynocide against his own people,I pray history will never forgive him and it's a curse on his own person and his blood.Russia who normally criticise the US has seen their importency when they failed to resolve the crisis and was involved,all what it knows is only weapons deal but when US involved progress will be made.They only decry the US' interest but ingnore the positive impacts.I expect within few day the deployment of Troops and the Jet Fighters to remove that cruel and callous president

    May 1, 2013 at 5:30 pm | Reply
  8. Abdul

    We are coming to Bait al Maqdis and we are there to stay!

    May 2, 2013 at 6:12 am | Reply
  9. Yusuffjimoh

    Are you aware that two wrongs can never make a right?therefore,dialogue,is very cheap.

    May 3, 2013 at 5:22 am | Reply
    • Thinker23

      Are you aware that dialogue can only be possible with someone willing to participate in it? If there no one willing to have a dialogue with you it will become a monologue...

      May 3, 2013 at 8:55 am | Reply
  10. 4theworld

    Yes enough is enough.People run out of their Country.loss of human life.infrastuture of cities destroyed.No homes to go back to.Look at Eygpt they never even had a war now they say its worse than before.Muslims are pure people so why the hate ,why the killings,if a true muslim followed the Koran this would not be happening.

    May 7, 2013 at 12:11 am | Reply

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