As violence continues unabated in Syria and internal tension spills across into Lebanon, Israel’s Military Intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi warned of the risk of escalation, during a secret visit to the United States two weeks ago.
Whilst in Washington Kochavi met with senior White House and State Department officials, as well as senior officials in the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA, according to a report in Haaretz. Kochavi also briefed several ambassadors from UN Security Council member states in New York.
A senior Israeli official, who is also familiar with the details of Kochavi’s meetings in New York, said to Haaretz that the MI chief also met with senior officials in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Forces, which are responsible for the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL). According to the senior official, Kochavi warned against Hezbollah’s increasing strength in south Lebanon, stressing that the combination of heightened internal tension in Lebanon and Syria’s instability increases the risk of escalation.
Israel is concerned 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 European countries – France, Spain and Italy. However, in recent months, because of the economic crisis in Europe, these countries have started to cut their defence budgets and have reduced the number of their soldiers in UNIFIL. UNIFIL’s European contingent is increasingly being replaced by soldiers from Muslim countries, such as Indonesia, and Israel fears these soldiers will not take action as needed against Hezbollah.
A year ago Kochavi made a similar trip to Washington and New York, in which Syria was also 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.
In a recent podcast interview with BICOM, former Mossad chief Danny Yatom called on European powers to intervene on humanitarian grounds to stop the massacres in Syria. (Click here to listen to the podcast.)