Israel’s Minister of Defense Moshe “Bogey” Ya’alon told an international security conference in Tel Aviv Tuesday that if he had to choose, he would prefer to have the Islamic State (ISIS) next door in Syria, rather than Iran.
“In Syria, if the choice is between Iran and the Islamic State, I choose the Islamic State. They don’t have the capabilities that Iran has,” Ya’alon told the Institute for National Security Studies, the Times of Israel reported.
Ya’alon is among Israel’s deepest strategic thinkers. His remarks do not reflect support for ISIS, but rather a real concern about Iran’s military capabilities, boosted by $100 billion in sanctions relief and future nuclear capabilities.
Israel has carefully avoided taking a side in the Syrian civil war. While Israel and the Assad regime have been at war for decades, the border had been quiet for nearly four decades since the armistice that ended the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Bashar al-Assad and his father sheltered Palestinian terrorists, and funneled weapons and funds to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but feared taking on the Israeli military directly, especially after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Israel has largely limited its interventions in Syria to retaliating against cross-border fire, and attacking weapons shipments that could give Hezbollah new military capabilities–whether they were sold by Russia or escorted by Iranian generals. The Netanyahu government has preferred to keep Israel out of a fight among its enemies. That may change, however, if Iran–newly emboldened by the President Barack Obama’s outreach–boosts its presence.
Ya’alon’s remarks highlight the fact that while Israel and the U.S. both consider Islamic State an enemy, Israel believes that the Iranian regime is even worse, while the Obama administration believes Iran can be reformed.