HERZLIYA, Israel — Likening war-wracked Syria to a "cemetery of the good, the bad and the ugly," Israel's military intelligence chief warned of "slim" prospects for the type of diplomatic settlement sought by members of the 17-nation International Syria Support Group.
And even if the envisioned political transition deal were to be signed, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevy doubted whether "these distinguished people" would be able to implement such an agreement, given the deep rifts in a country "saturated by bloodshed."
Speaking on Tuesday at the annual Herzliya Conference, Halevy said: "The chances of a reunified Syria are very slim."
What could bring about change, he said, "is if the central players — the United States and Russia — impose their agenda in some of the places."
According to the Israeli head of military intelligence, Syria as a state no longer exists.
"I can’t predict a good end in Syria. There are 400,000 4,400 killed up until now," he said. "There are millions of refugees; 75 percent unemployment, negative growth; 80 percent live below the poverty line. You can’t even measure [gross domestic product] in Syria.
"So if we talk about what will happen in Syria in 15-20 years, we're talking about millions outside the educational system. ... They are growing up in an atmosphere of ignorance and hatred."
The military intelligence chief noted that Da'esh, the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, has lost significant numbers of people and vast stretches of territory since US-led coalition operations began last year.
At the same time, due to Russian involvement, the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad has stabilized, along with the Shiite axis of Iran and Hezbollah. All the while, al-Qaida-linked groups such as the Nusra Front remain relevant.
Halevy did not offer Israel's preferred outcome to the war raging beyond its northern border. However, he presented a scenario that Israel would find unacceptable.
"The question is not how we would like this story to end, but how would we not like it to end," he said. "Let's say Da'esh has been contained. The superpowers have left the area, and we are stuck here with the Iranian axis with caches of advanced weaponry."
To avoid such an outcome, he said Israel would have to act "through coordination with the superpowers and through other means as well."
Halevy insisted that while the role of military intelligence is, in part, to try to forecast the future, the "fog of the present" must be penetrated first.
"The fog in the Middle East is very thick," he said. "One can define this region at this time as 'stable instability.' We have to get used to this fact."
Opall-Rome is Israel bureau chief for Defense News. She has been covering U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation, Mideast security and missile defense since May 1988. She lives north of Tel Aviv. Visit her website at www.opall-rome.com.