Israeli leaders say it is time for Syria’s Assad to step down

By Associated Press, Updated: Friday, April 27, 10:32 AM

JERUSALEM — Israeli officials have become increasingly outspoken in their belief that Syria’s President Bashar Assad should relinquish power after a 13-month uprising that has killed thousands of his citizens — a surprising turnaround that risks backfiring and potentially strengthening the embattled Syrian leader.
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Many officials, including the hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, say that Assad’s tough crackdown on his own people has robbed him of any legitimacy to remain in power.
Others believe Assad’s departure would weaken what the Israelis call Iran’s “axis of evil” in the region — the anti-Israel alliance of Iran, Syria, Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrilla group and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Fears that Assad might attack Israel to divert attention from his domestic troubles have also subsided. Some even believe he will be replaced by a moderate, Western-leaning government.
In perhaps the toughest comments to date, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said last week that Assad’s ouster would be “very positive” for Israel.

“The toppling down of Assad will be a major blow to the radical axis,” he said in a CNN interview. “It will weaken dramatically Iran.”

Although Israeli officials now believe Assad’s days are numbered, they say they are keeping their distance from the key players in Syria. They do not want to be seen as intervening in Syrian affairs. For this reason, officials say, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been extremely careful with his public statements, condemning the bloodshed but saying nothing about the future of Syria.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel would welcome international action against Assad, just as international action in Libya helped oust the late Moammar Gadhafi. But he said Israel is not openly pressuring the West to take action.
“We know our place. It’s not for us to give advice,” he said. “We’re not doing anything to make him go. We’re not getting involved or even thinking of any interference.”
Palmor said Israel has no idea who might replace Assad. But Israeli security officials believe that if Assad goes, there is a good chance that a moderate, Sunni, Western-leaning government will take his place.

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