Excerpts of an Interview with Israeli Military Intelligence Head Maj.-Gen. Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, from (Yediot Ahronot-Hebrew, 29Apr 05):
The Mossad and Israeli military intelligence recently thwarted ten terrorist attacks overseas against Israelis.
Q: To what extent is Bashar Assad’s position in power unstable?
A: I estimate that he will get through this year, but the internal tensions in the Alawite community will intensify. The Alawites have no intention of losing their senior status within Syria. We already hear voices that say perhaps Bashar cannot deliver the goods, perhaps a replacement must be found. I also envision struggles emerging between the Sunnis and the Alawites, while al-Qaeda, that has decided to become involved in what goes on in Syria, does not intend to pull its hand away from the Syrian dish.
Q: Are they already speaking about an alternative leader?
A: The name of General Asif Shawkat, the head of the intelligence apparatus and Assad’s brother-in-law, comes up. He is seen within the Alawite community as being strong. They even talk about Major Maher, Bashar’s brother. After five years in power, Bashar is not a kid. And after he was forced to pull his troops out of Lebanon, he is perceived as a weak leader. We identify cracks in the connection between Syria and Hizballah because of Bashar’s behavior. I am uncertain whether Bashar has the strength and talent to act decisively: he must decide whether he will be Saddam Hussein or Qadhafi.
Q: What is your view of the struggles between Abu Mazen and Abu Ala?
A: It doesn’t work between them. The source of the conflict between them is the fact that they have two different world views and perhaps some jealousy. These are two people that Yasser Arafat built up over forty years using the system of divide and rule, it’s hard for them to cooperate. Aside from that, Abu Ala is a man of interim agreements, while Abu Mazen speaks about reaching a final arrangement and ending the armed struggle. Abu Ala, like Arafat, believes in obtaining political achievements through terrorism.
Q: Abu Mazen doesn’t want to or cannot (change things from the Arafat era)?
A: Abu Mazen changed the chief of staff and spokesman of his office, but doesn’t deal seriously with his opposition. He is not preparing to confiscate weaponry or put down the terrorist infrastructure. There could be a situation whereby he will have to receive U.S., Israeli, and Egyptian pressure in order to continue. If he doesn’t deal with the deep roots of the problems, it will be difficult to move on to the next stage of the Roadmap. And generally, it is hardly certain that Abu Mazen will survive after the disengagement from Gaza.
Q: To what extent should we be pressured by the Iranian nuclear threat?
A: Whoever is pushing all the time that we should climb to the top of the hill and lead the struggle against the Iranian nuclear matter and the Revolutionary Guards is mistaken. Just like in the war of bin Laden and al-Qaeda, their number one target is the United States, “the Big Satan.” One must follow what they are doing. Iran is developing missiles with a range of 5,000 kilometers, and at a second stage they are getting ready to develop missiles with a range of 10,000 kilometers. Israel is located “just” within the range of a little more than 1,000 kilometers. The Iranians present a problem to the U.S., the Far East, Russia, South Asia, and Europe.