JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly considering a preemptive military strike against several Syrian chemical weapons storage depots and Scud missile sites. The goal is to prevent embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad from transferring the unconventional arsenal to Hizbullah or the Iranian Revolutionary Guards if Assad appears on the verge of being toppled from power by opposition forces.
The possibility of an Israeli incursion into Syrian territory was bolstered by reports this week in the German weekly Der Spiegel and Britain’s Times of London that elite pro-Assad government troops used advanced missile systems, tanks and jet fighters to test blank chemical weapons canisters during the summer, with the field tests supervised by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The chemical weapons laboratory, according to Der Spiegel, is located in Safira (east of Aleppo) and is manned by Syrian, North Korean and Iranian scientists and intelligence agents.
A defecting Syrian general told the Times of London that Assad has discussed transferring the chemical weapons stockpiles, along with their delivery systems, to Hizbullah should Assad be forced to flee from Damascus. The Al Arabiya TV network reported on Wednesday that Assad’s sister, Bushra, defected with her children to Dubai, a Persian Gulf emirate. Her late husband, a member of the Syrian high command, was killed by Syrian opposition forces in July.
The news reports’ legitimacy and implications were strengthened when IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz ordered a surprise live fire drill across sections of the Golan Heights, along the border with Syria. Advanced Merkava tanks and elite paratroop units were said to be taking part in the drill, amid the heightened tensions with Syria and Iran. Over the last few months, the IDF has also begun to upgrade and fortify Israel’s border fence along the Syrian frontier, due to growing concerns that Hizbullah or al Qaeda terrorists will attempt to create a mass casualty incident against IDF troops or Israeli citizens in the Golan region.
NATO and the Pentagon say that in preparation for Assad’s possible ouster or use of chemical weapons against Syria’s civilian population, as many as 10,000 elite soldiers have been placed on alert in Europe and the Middle East to secure Assad’s chemical weapons and Scud missile depots. For their part Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak aren’t convinced that European and American leaders, including President Obama, will act fast enough to secure the weapons, which are purportedly dispersed across several dozen locations.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert ordered a preemptive strike against a Syrian nuclear weapons development site in 2007 after President George W. Bush rejected Olmert’s request for an American military strike against the rogue Syrian nuclear site. Bush maintained that a diplomatic effort was preferable to the use of force.
According to several Israeli media reports, Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman are becoming increasingly frustrated with the growing number of failed American foreign policy efforts in the Middle East. One report said that high-ranking Israeli Foreign Ministry members have accused their State Department counterparts of “burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the increasing radicalization of Arab states such as Tunisia and Egypt.”
Earlier this week, reports circulated that under the current circumstances in Egypt, it would be almost impossible for the Israeli Embassy in Cairo to function properly. And El Al announced that it was thinking of terminating its scheduled service to Cairo based on a lack of business and the rapidly deteriorating security situation in that country.