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Israel's new army chief pushed for Assad assassination: Report

Anonymous Israeli official tells Saudi newspaper that Aviv Kochavi wanted to take out the Syrian president but his request was denied
Major-General Aviv Kochavi proposed removing the Assad regime in a bid to curb Iranian, Russian influence in the Middle East (screenshot)

Israel's new army chief, Major-General Aviv Kochavi, suggested the assassination of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a bid to curb Iranian and Russian influence in the Middle East, according to a Saudi newspaper. 

An unnamed Israeli official, who spoke to the London-based Elaph newspaper, claimed that Kochavi made the proposals while serving as the country's head of military intelligence.

The anonymous Israeli source told Elaph that Kochavi justified his position by claiming that Assad's government "would bring calamities to Israel from Iran, Hezbollah, the militias and Russian influence in the region".

However, the head of Mossad, Yossi Cohen, rebuffed Kochavi's calls to topple the Syrian government as he wanted "someone it could communicate with by back channels if needs be," Elaph reported.

The anonymous official also told Elaph that Israel's diplomatic-security cabinet instead wanted to focus on curbing Iranian influence in the region instead of Assad specifically, and "held extensive discussions on the situation about Syria and decided that Israel would not allow an Iranian military presence there".

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The details of Israel shifting its focus on curbing Iran's influence in the region corresponds with other statements made by Israeli military officials.

In 2017, Gadi Eisenkot, Israel's outgoing chief of staff, said that Iranian influence across the region was a major concern to Israel.

"The Iranian plan is to control the Middle East by means of two Shia crescents," Eisenkot told Elaph at the time, "the first being from Iran through Iraq to Syria and Lebanon and the second across the Gulf from Bahrain to Yemen to the Red Sea. We must stop that from happening."

Assad's time in danger appears to have passed. Once threatened by Syrian rebels who rose up against him in 2011, Assad's government has been propped up by intervention by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The nearly eight-year conflict over his rule has cost around half a million lives and displaced some 10 million Syrians.

Today the international community appears to be warming to him, with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain last week announcing they were reopening their Damascus embassies.

Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, also visited Assad in December, making him the first leader from the Arab League to visit since the civil war began.