Israel ready for Syria’s chemical weapons: reconsidering security after Assad by Emrah Usta*

August 22, 2012, Wednesday/ 16:43:00/ EMRAH USTA

The ongoing civil war in Syria has evolved into a different stage while states in the region take steps to prepare for the post-Assad scenario. The current state of the conflict shows that the Assad forces withdrew from Golan, Idlib and northern Syria but that the army is flexible enough to carry out influential attacks.

Most of the analysts, who hold that the high-level military administration of the Assad regime has been weakened after a recent bombing incident, are focusing their analyses on the different states in Syria. Middle East experts who refer to the possibility of the emergence of Alawite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish autonomous regions are trying to inject their ideas and views through different persons and leaders; this points to the heterogeneous outlook of the region and the fragility of any political setting. In case Assad attempts to create an Alawite state in a predominantly Alawite area within Syria, a campaign of ethnic cleansing becomes a possibility in the country, particularly after the partition of the Sunni bloc. The current situation in Aleppo seems to be the forerunner of such a campaign.

Is the scenario suggesting that Syria may be partitioned into federations true? This question requires a proper response. Assad has been evacuating the security and military zones to combine his forces; is this a tactical strategy? The consolidation of the regime’s position within the country is the result of a desire to take a more centralized role. In the face of these developments, this functional transformation of Syria has caused serious discussions in the neighboring countries, including Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon and Israel.

In short, there are attempts to address the concerns of all countries interested in the developments in Syria. An agreement to address the common concerns by Russia and Israel will lead to the rapid dissolution of the regime in Syria. The conflict in Syria has raised some concerns in Israel over its security. The Syrian withdrawal from the Golan Heights and Israel’s attention to Syria made Syrian authorities concerned; Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor recently stated that Israel has been working in the Golan Heights to prevent an influx of refugees from Syria. This statement demonstrates that Israel is addressing its security concerns. On its Internet website, al Arabiyya TV argued that Israel will build a security wall in the Golan Heights; this shows that for Israel, security holds priority in the Israeli policy vis-à-vis Syria after Assad.

Another strong statement was made by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said, “Israel will not hold back and will respond decisively if this happens,” in reference to concerns suggesting that Assad’s chemical weapons may be acquired by paramilitary and terrorist groups. Paul Alster on Fox News argued that Israel is preparing for chemical weapons. Alster said that in case Hezbollah acquires chemical weapons after the dissolution of the Assad regime, Israel may interfere with Syrian internal affairs and that Israel will not tolerate the transfer of these weapons to terrorist groups.

On the other hand, in a column by Jodi Rudoren in The New York Times on June 19, “Israel Worries as Syria Deteriorates,” Ehud Barak was quoted as saying that the partition was a fact; the author of the column also notes that in the event of the collapse of the Syrian regime, a civil war will erupt in Lebanon and that the Golan Heights will become a safe haven for terrorist groups.

The article also refers to views by Eyal Zisser from Tel Aviv University, who said that an average Jew did not care about the justice, democracy and welfare of their neighbors and that what really mattered for them was the Israeli security conundrum. In consideration of the security threats and problems, Israel has improved its security measures out of concerns over the possibility that chemical weapons may be acquired by terrorist groups.

Conventional military intervention in Syria seems a remote possibility. Instead, local attacks that focus on specific targets appear to be more attractive. There will be attempts to destroy the non-conventional arms of Syria. Independent institutions report that there are five arms production centers in Syria that produce chemical weapons. These are Al Safir (used as a missile base), Cerin, Hama, Homs, Latakia and Palmyra. Homs is close to Lebanon to the Russian base in Tartus; this is shown particular consideration by the Israeli authorities in drafting their security policies to address the security problems.

Who rules Syria after Assad and what power they have are issues that could be considered and discussed with particular reference to Israeli security concerns. Israel is particularly worried about the emergence of Islamist rule in countries experiencing a process of change, including Tunisia and Egypt, and wants to extend its sphere of security throughout the region. To this end, Israel views any possible threat from the situation in Syria as critical for its security and territorial integrity.

*Emrah Usta is an İstanbul-based political analyst and op-ed writer. He can be followed on Twitter @Emr_Usta

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