JERUSALEM – Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak has ordered IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to draw up plans for a possible series of preemptive strikes against various Scud missile installations and suspected WMD (weapons of mass destruction) sites across Syria, as the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad’s dictatorship appears to be entering a dangerous phase.
According to Israel’s Channel 10 senior defense correspondent Alon Ben-David, the IDF has stepped up its aerial surveillance of key military bases across Syria, as various anti-government rebel militias have begun to overrun government facilities, including a major air force and missile base.
Both Israeli and American intelligence sources said that some of the rebel groups, associated with the al Qaeda terrorist network, entered Syria from neighboring Iraq. In a Channel 10 interview earlier this week, Barak confirmed that Israel is closely monitoring events on the ground in Syria and could be forced to take action if a variety of advanced conventional and unconventional weapons fall into the wrong hands.
Ben-David said that the IDF is preparing to deal with two possible scenarios: Should defecting or retreating Syrian government forces be detected transferring either advanced Scud missiles or chemical weapons to Hizbullah, which has been working alongside Assad’s forces, the IDF would attack specific targets to prevent the transfers. The IDF would also act against al Qaeda terror cells if they closed in on either a chemical weapons facility or missile base that could contain Scuds capable of reaching Israeli territory.
According to Yediot Aharonot, the UN and American intelligence communities have expressed concerns to the recognized leaders of the anti-Assad rebel coalition about the presence of al Qaeda in Syria. The White House and CIA have allegedly told Barak that it would be almost impossible for elite ground and air forces to find and destroy all of Assad’s WMD facilities, as they are spread out across dozens of locations throughout Syria.
Israeli media also reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Barak and Gantz, the IDF chief of staff, are trying to figure out ways to attack the aforementioned potential military and WMD targets without triggering a war with Syria and Hizbullah. The Israeli government and IDF have openly speculated that a cornered Assad and a desperate Iranian government (currently under severe economic sanctions) might be inclined to spark a war with Israel in order to temporarily prop up Assad or prevent a domino effect. Under the latter scenario the Sunni anti-Assad rebels would attack Iran’s Hizbullah-allied Shiite forces in retaliation for their direct involvement in the massacre of innocent Syrian civilians.
While Israeli and American intelligence officials are unable to predict how long Assad’s forces will be able to hold out against the widening rebellion, the better-trained Syrian army and Hizbullah militia are likely capable of fomenting a protracted civil war against the country’s Sunni majority – with or without Assad.
The deteriorating situation prompted Israel’s Homefront Command earlier this week to begin preparing for the mass evacuation of Israeli citizens from major population centers in Northern and Central Israel. In the event of a massive missile attack against cities like Haifa, Netanya and Tel Aviv, the Homefront Command would be expected to evacuate citizens to hotels, public buildings and tent cities in Eilat and the Jordan Valley for at least a week.
The Homefront Command, in order to prevent an immense disruption of vital services, is also working with the commercial sector on ways to properly protect key facilities such as electric power stations, oil and gas refineries, water companies and major food manufacturers.