The headline of this Wikileaks disclosure is that Bashar al-Assad considered shooting chemical weapons at Israel in the aftermath of the destruction of his al-Kibar nuclear plant in 2007. But it’s not the headline to which Israelis should pay attention in this story. It’s the rest of it.
According to these documents, Israeli and American intelligence analysts met here in November 2009 and their deliberations produced four separate debriefings from the US Embassy to Washington.
From these it emerges that the Mossad is convinced that Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah is determined to fire as many as 400-600 rockets daily in the next round of hostilities with Israel, 100 of which will be aimed each day at Tel Aviv.
That war, estimate Mossad experts, could last for as long as two months, meaning that as many as 24,000- 36,000 missiles – 6,000 targeting Tel Aviv specifically – could be rained upon Israel from the north alone.
How the Hamas Iranian proxy would behave during that conflict is an unaddressed complication in the deeply worrying equation.
These are not speculative doomsday predictions which we can afford to repress in the far recesses of our collective consciousness. They become all the more relevant in the face of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s teetering position as he strives to hang on to power.
For one thing, the leaked information consistently reinforces allegations that, contrary to its international undertakings, Syria has continued supplying Hezbollah with ballistic missiles, including Scuds. The leaks further indicate that North Korea is stoking the regional arms build-up by providing missile systems to both Syria and Iran, which in turn sustain Hezbollah and Hamas.
The bottom line, in the Syrian context, is that Assad sits on a particularly large and nasty arsenal. Both his late father and he had practiced self-control, making their border with Israel exceedingly quiet to date, while transferring the confrontational brunt to the Lebanese and Gazan fronts. In other words, while the Assad regime had itself avoided open warfare with Israel, it was the nefarious catalyst actively fomenting trouble elsewhere.
It is in part because of his capacity for trouble-making, indeed, that the US has thus far refrained from openly calling for Assad’s removal. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that a relatively stable Syria will help facilitate the American exit from Iraq.
Sorry folks, but that’s letting the tail wag the dog. Setting a deadline for a US withdrawal from Iraq was a stupid move in the first place, as was the notion of making Afghanistan the ‘good war’ and Iraq the ‘bad war’ for which George Bush was to be blamed. There is no way there can be an ‘orderly withdrawal’ from Iraq now. Given everything else that is going on in the region, a US withdrawal from Iraq would put it under Syrian or Iranian hegemony (or both) in about a week.
Yet assuming, for argument’s sake, that Assad does not survive the mounting challenges to his rule, into whose hands would his formidable weapons and rocket stockpiles fall? One may disbelieve certain details and incidentals in individual WikiLeaks texts, but their entirety eminently accords with what had been evident from Damascus for too long. Assad has amassed and controls particularly deadly weaponry. For Israel, Assad is a cunning enemy. The danger is that he may well be supplanted by even more malicious, yet less restrained enemies.
Actually, as cruel as it may sound, we here in Israel may be better off if the ethnic groups in Syria kill each other in a bloodbath as Israeli experts on Syria are predicting will happen if Assad is deposed. If they’re busy killing each other, they will be too busy to go to war with us. If Assad is deposed, the IDF can neglect Syria and concentrate on destroying Hezbullah’s capabilities in Lebanon. No, it won’t be a walk in the park, but the IDF is certainly capable of handling Hezbullah. And at least if Tel Aviv is under fire (and it may be under fire from Hamas as well), you can bet that the IDF won’t hold back. Goldstone will be a distant memory. The open question is what Hamas will do in response and whether Egypt will respond at all.