Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday that Syrian president Bashar Assad has lost his legitimacy and that his fall would be “very positive.”
In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Barak said an exit by Assad would weaken Iranian influence in the region. He added that anti-Israel Iranian proxies in Lebanon and Gaza would suffer if Assad is overthrown.
“The toppling of Assad will be ... a major blow to Iran,” Barak was quoted in an Associated Press report as having said during the interview. “It will be very positive event.”
He added that the world is not doing enough to force Assad out.
Amanpour also asked Barak about the Iranian nuclear threat, noting that the U.S. believes the regime in the Islamic Republic has not yet decided to develop a nuclear weapon. Barak rejected that claim.
“It’s true that Khamenei probably has not given an order to start building a [nuclear] weapon or device, but why is he doing this? Just because he understands that if he starts to actually build a weapon, he might find himself facing an American or an Israeli response in a way that might damage him,” said Barak.
“That’s the only reason why he did not give the order, but they are clearly headed towards this objective,” he added.
Earlier this week, Barak said that Israel has not given the U.S. a commitment to hold off from striking Iran while the U.S. and other countries are holding talks with the Persian theocracy.
Barak said during a radio interview that he does not believe the attempts to stop Iran's nuclear program through negotiation will succeed.
“We are not part of the negotiations,” he said, “but we think the Americans have a goal of stopping Iran – yet we believe that the chances are not high that the sort of steps that are being taken will cause Iran to fold its nuclear program.”
In a later meeting with Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos, Barak called for tougher sanctions on Iran.
“It is time for serious sanctions against Iran,” Barak told Santos. “Iran is a threat not only to Israel but a threat to the entire world order. The goal should be to stop Iran from its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.”
The CNN interview took place on the same day Barak and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met at the Pentagon. The meeting, which lasted over an hour, was also attended by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey.
The meeting dealt with all the regional issues affecting the Middle East, including Syria, Iran, as well as with the American aid to the Iron Dome anti-missile system. After the meeting, Barak said, “The U.S. and Israel continue to closely monitor the developments in the region and maintain a continuous dialogue.”
Following their meeting, Barak and Panetta attended a ceremony at the Pentagon in honor of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day.