"We never saw it coming. It happened on my watch, so it must be said. But if it's any consolation, Egypt never saw it coming either," former IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said on Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the mass demonstrations that led to the end of ex-President Hosni Mubarak's rule.
Speaking at a seminar held at Tel Aviv University., Ashkenazi said, "The Middle East's plates are shifting. What the Egyptian army didn't know, I couldn't have known. (Egypt's) leaders did not know either," he said.
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During the conference, which was organized by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), the former army chief said the "demise of the (Arab world's) leaders" began prior to the Arab Spring.
"We cannot assume that everything can be resolved with a military campaign," he told the conference.
Addressing Iran, Ashkenazi said Israel must prepare for a possible confrontation. "In my opinion, the strategy vis-à-vis Iran should be to do whatever is possible under the radar coupled with painful and crippling sanctions. However, we should also keep a viable military option on the table," he said.
The recent killing of Iranian professor Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was the latest in a series of hits on nuclear scientists who are linked to the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, which Israel and other Western nations are desperately trying to halt.
Ashkenazi said some of the sanctions imposed by the West on Tehran were having an effect, "but the problem now is that the nuclear program's clock it ticking faster than ever. Our immediate goal is to slow this clock down. There is another clock that is on the table, but it is not ticking at the moment.
"I believe Iran would be making a strategic mistake if it blocks the Strait of Hormuz. Another mistake was trying to kill the Saudi ambassador at a restaurant in the US capital. The Iranians are liable to make more mistakes under pressure," he told the conference.
Former Military Intelligence chief and head of the INSS, Amos Yadlin, told the conference earlier, "The changes in Syria bear strategic benefits for Israel. For many years defense and political officials recommended that Israel strike a peace deal with Syria, even if it entailed paying a heavy price. The justification was to pull it out of the radical Syria-Iran axis.
"This could happen today naturally, without us paying that price. Peace with Syria is needed regardless of recent events, but the process is positive," he said.
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