Israel fears turmoil may benefit Hizbullah


ISRAELI DEFENCE officials have expressed concern that the current instability in Syria may lead to the transfer of advanced weapons to Hizbullah.

According to Israeli assessments, the fall of the regime of president Bashar al-Assad is now a matter of time. Israel fears that Syria’s huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, advanced anti-aircraft missiles and long-range rockets may end up in the hands of Hizbullah or other militant groups.

One official said the transfer of chemical weapons to the Shi’ite group, which is closely allied to Iran, would be considered “a declaration of war.” Defence minister Ehud Barak said the fall of the Assad regime would be a “blessing for the Middle East” but had inherent dangers.

“It is difficult to predict exactly what will happen in Syria. We’re watching for attempts to pass advanced weapons systems that could edge the delicate balance in Lebanon to Hizbullah.”

It is widely believed Hizbullah maintains bases and weapons’ storage facilities inside Syria, close to the Lebanese border. There have been numerous reports of Hizbullah fighters helping Syrian government forces put down the current uprising.

Israel fears that if the Assad regime collapses, Hizbullah will transfer advanced weapons across the border. “Syria, which was an island of stability in the past, is now being torn apart by military clashes. Lebanon is now perceived as being more stable,” a security official explained.

He warned that chemical weapons or advanced anti-aircraft missiles in Hizbullah’s possession would cross Israeli red lines.

The commander of Israel’s Air Force, Maj Gen Ido Nechushtan, recently warned the current instability in Syria could lead to conflict on Israel’s northern front and insisted that Israel must prepare for such an eventuality.

Although Israel and Syria have fought four wars, the border between the two states has been relatively calm with Damascus forbidding militant groups to launch cross-border incursions. Last year, after the start of the uprising against President al-Assad, Syria allowed thousands of Palestinian refugees to march on Israel’s border, provoking a violent response from Israeli forces.

Israeli officials predicted further incidents to divert world attention from Syria’s problems.