Maj. Gen. Kochavi, warns against Hezbollah’s increasing strength in south Lebanon, says he sees possibility for convincing Russian President Vladimir Putin to cooperate with the west against Assad.
Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi made a secret visit two weeks ago to Washington and to UN headquarters in New York, where he discussed the Iranian nuclear program, the Syria crisis and Hezbollah’s increasing power in Lebanon, a senior Israeli official has said.
Kochavi met in Washington with senior White House and State Department officials, as well as senior officials in the Defense Department Intelligence agency and the CIA.
According to the senior Israeli official, the Iran issue was a central focus of Kochavi’s talks in Washington, where he discussed the progress of Iran’s nuclear program and the status of the talks Iran is holding with the P5 +1 nations about the program’s future.
In New York, Kochavi briefed several ambassadors from UN Security Council member states. These discussions also dealt with Iran, but primarily focused on the situation in Syria and Lebanon.
A European diplomat who was briefed on the content of Kochavi’s talks in New York said that according to Kochavi the Israeli intelligence community has changed its stance on the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime. Until a few months ago Israel believed preserving the regime would serve Israel’s interests, but now it believes Israel would be better served by Assad’s removal from office.
Kochavi said Israel believes Assad’s fate is sealed, and the only question is how long it will be before his regime is toppled, according to the diplomat.
A senior Israeli official who is also familiar with the details of Kochavi’s meetings in New York said the MI chief had also met with senior officials in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Forces, which is responsible for the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon.
According to the senior official, Kochavi warned against Hezbollah’s increasing strength in south Lebanon, stressing that the combination of increasing internal tension in Lebanon and Syria’s instability increases the risk of escalation.
Kochavi’s talks with the Department of Peacekeeping Forces were also held in the context of the change earlier this year at the helm of UNIFIL. The former UNIFIL commander, Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas of Spain, ended his tour of duty at the end of January. He was replaced by Italian Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra.
Israel is worried about changes that have taken place recently in the makeup of UNIFIL’s forces. Nearly half of the force’s soldiers, some 6,000 of 13,000, come from large European countries – France, Spain and Italy. But in recent months, because of the economic crisis in Europe, these countries have started to cut their defense budgets and have reduced the number of their soldiers in UNIFIL.
The European soldiers are increasingly being replaced by soldiers from Muslim countries such as Indonesia, and Israel fears these soldiers won’t take action as needed against Hezbollah.
A year ago Kochavi made a similar trip to Washington and New York, in which Syria was the main focus of discussion. On that visit he warned envoys of Security Council member states that if Assad’s regime were to fall the Syrian army’s advanced weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah.