There is growing concern in Israel that the faltering regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will use its stockpiles of chemical weapons as a last resort. According to a report in The Times of London and Maariv, Israel would take part in a joint military effort against the weapons of mass destruction, together with armed forces from the U.S., Britain, Jordan and Turkey. The report in The Times said some 75,000 commandos would take part in a massive ground operation against the Syrian WMD arsenal.
A senior intelligence official, meanwhile, told Israel's Channel 2 TV news that Israel's border with Syria on the Golan Heights could "soon become the most active border we have, more than Gaza and Egypt." The official added that the only thing keeping Assad in power was the Syrian Air Force, but that even this power was being eroded as rebels down more and more warplanes and helicopters. "The Syrian Air Force is the only thing standing in the way of rebel victory. Assad's situation worsens in direct correlation with the situation of his air force, which is losing one to two planes a day and it cannot sustain such a rate of attrition. The collapse of the Syrian Air Force will lead to a certain collapse of the regime in Damascus. Assad's days are numbered, and in the chaos that will replace him, extremists will heat up the Golan border," the official said.
The intelligence official told Channel 2 TV that global jihad groups have been preparing near the border with Israel, and are "stockpiling huge amounts of lethal weapons for a fight with Israel."
"The main problem is not the local rebel groups but fighters coming from outside Syria. Hundreds of fighters have begun streaming into Syria from Jordan and Iraq. They come from countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, and many other countries. We're talking about very dangerous people with experience fighting the U.S. army in Iraq as well as fighting the regime in Libya. We estimate that there are between 3,000 to 4,000 rebel fighters belonging to radical Salafist groups who all belong under the al-Qaida umbrella," the official said.
"Some of these fighters are fighting against the Assad regime, but there are groups that have begun deploying near our border and are stockpiling weaponry. There are now several hundred jihadis deployed along the border with Israel in the area of Kuneitra, Bir Ajam, Barika, and some other areas. The assessment is that they possess quantities of weapons that are not being used against Assad's army and that it will be Israeli soldiers who will be faced with this weaponry. We are certain that they have MILAN, Metis-M, and Kornet anti-tank missiles, as well as shoulder-fired SA-18 anti-aircraft missiles, which are particularly problematic," the intelligence official said.
The unusually candid assessment from the intelligence official continued with him saying that the jihadis were stockpiling "huge amounts of light arms, bullets, sniper rifles, and ready-to-use explosives."
"We expect these rebels to stockpile a large amount of rockets, a situation which will return the northern Israeli communities into the line of fire. We assess that once the foreign rebels have finished fighting Assad's army they will all turn their attention to the border with Israel. There is no question about it. Once the Assad regime falls, we will start seeing incidents on our border. I assess that it will start with a trickle of incidents, like we see on the Egyptian border, and further down the line we'll start seeing the firing of anti-tank missiles at IDF vehicles, roadside bombs against patrols, and these are only the incidents I can reveal. I believe we will see much worse things," the official said.
The official added that there was increasing coordination between jihadi groups in the Golan Heights, Sinai and the Gaza Strip, and that Syrian rebels were likely to fire on Israeli forces along the Golan border to further draw them into confrontation with the Syrian army.
"It really doesn't matter who takes over on the day after Assad falls. All the signs show that the situation is not going in a positive direction as far as Israel is concerned," the official said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday Israel is closely tracking developments relating to chemical weapons in Syria, whose regime has been warned against using them in the country's uprising.
"Along with the international community, we are closely following developments in Syria related to its chemical weapons stockpiles," Netanyahu said in a statement from his office.
"I heard President Obama's important remarks on the subject and we see things the same way," said Netanyahu. "We believe these weapons must not be used and must not fall into the hands of terrorist elements."
The White House and its allies are weighing military options to secure Syria's chemical and biological weapons, after U.S. intelligence reports show the Syrian regime may be readying those weapons and may be desperate enough to use them, U.S. officials said Monday.
U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech at the National Defense University on Monday, pointedly warned Assad not to use the weapons.
"Today I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command: The world is watching," Obama said. "The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable. And if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable."
NATO allies expressed "grave" concern on Tuesday about reports that the Syrian government may be preparing to use its chemical weapons, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
The military alliance agreed on Tuesday to deploy Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Turkey to protect it from any spillover of the civil war in neighboring Syria.
"The NATO ministers unanimously expressed grave concern about reports that the Syrian regime may be considering the use of chemical weapons," Rasmussen told a news conference. "Any such action would be completely unacceptable and a clear breach of international law."