Syria: Israel walls itself in, close eye on chemical weapons

'War uncertain, risk of no man's land', high-ranking official

11 January, 20:56

(ANSAmed) - TEL AVIV, JANUARY 11 - Faced with the brutal civil war tearing Syria apart for the past two years, Israel prefers to stay on the sidelines. At the same time, though, it is forced to keep a close eye on the latest developments in the conflict - developments which often take its own secret services by surprise.

''Our main headache,'' a high-ranking military source told ANSA, ''are the tonnes of chemical weapons. Who is looking after them? Who controls them? Syria also possesses some of the most advanced Russian anti-aircraft missiles and sophisticated land-to-sea missiles.'' This is a conflict in which Israel is not ''rooting'' for anyone. On one side is the ''Axis of Evil'': the predominantly Shia alliance between Iran, Hezbollah and Bashar Al-Assad's regime. On the other is a muddle of rebel forces - noted the source - including ''great Syrians, patriots fighting for their country'', but also ''jihadists'' coming from all corners of the world. Among the latter are Al Qaeda elements, who Israeli lookouts - he added - can see with the naked eye from the Golan Heights (occupied by Israel since 1967).

From his office in the stately Tel Aviv Defence Ministry, the high-ranking official is not able to discern which side is winning in Syria (''the situation changes from one day to the next''). Nor does he feel he can make any predictions as concerns how the conflict will end. ''We know that Assad is determined to fight, and that he has enough funds to pay salaries.'' Assad's weak point, however, are the Army's Sunni units, which after so many massacres of Sunnis might revolt against him.

He noted that ''the war could drag on even for years, unless the rebels find a way to kill Assad.'' On the basis of other similar situations(Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Yemen, the Egyptian Sinai), Egypt feels that beyond the Golan Heights (disputed, but calm for the past 30 years), a no man's land is being created where terrorism could prosper. Like in the Sinai, where armed groups are spreading that have ties with Al Qaeda, similar scenarios are beginning to be seen near the border fence with Syria. Israel's military presence has already been boosted, but now the country feels it is necessary to rapidly put up a 100-kilometre barricade similar to the 230-kilometre one recently completed along the border with Egypt.

In a Middle East where Shia Islam is facing off against its Sunni counterpart, where nations imposed 100 years ago by colonial powers are being shaken to their very foundations and countries like Iran, Turkey and Egypt are once against dreaming of hegemonic region-wide projects, Israel (claims the source) does not feel the time is ripe to step into the fray. It is therefore staying out of it by barricading itself in.

In any case, Syria's chemical arsenals (''for the time being they are still in military hands'') and the modern Russian missiles might prove tantalizing to many: for example, the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, sworn enemy of the ''Zionist entity''. ''And this is a development that Israel could not accept.'' (ANSAmed).