Israel’s chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz warned Monday, April 22, that Bashar Assad’s fall would not end the Syrian bloodbath but drag the country even further into tribal and ethnic warfare on the scale of Afghanistan two decades ago. Iran and Hizballah are deeply implicated in this calamity. Strangely enough, Russia backs them. Gantz was giving the annual lecture at Tel Aviv University’s National Security Institute.
Also Monday, Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, pledged action against the use of chemical weapons in Syria and promised not to allow sophisticated weapons to reach other nations or Hizballah-type organizations. The Golan border would be well guarded, he said, speaking at a joint new conference with visiting US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “Whenever there is a problem in our region, we shall respond as we have already done,” said the minister.
Ya’alon’s comments present three striking difficulties:
1. Hizballah didn’t wait for advanced weapons to cross from Syria into Lebanon. Two heavily armed combat brigades of this Iranian-backed Shiite militia, each numbering 1,000 men, crossed instead in the opposite direction and are fighting Bashar Assad’s battles around Qusayr 35 kilometers south of Homs. They collect their weapons directly from Syrian military arsenals and arms consignments airlifted in by Iran and Russia.
2, Some Israeli strategists predict that its deep involvement in the Syrian civil war will weaken Hizballah. Others maintain that Hizballah has lengthened its front against Israel into Syria and gained extensive battlefield experience, making it a greater menace to Israel than ever before.
The defense minister did not address these developments.
3. He did say the Golan border would be well guarded. But then what about the Lebanese border which has twice erupted into full-scale war ignited by that same Hizballah?
On arrival in Israel, Hagel said the $10 bn arms deals for Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UA are “a very clear signal” to Iran that military options remain on the table over its nuclear program. "The bottom line is that Iran is a threat, a real threat," he said “and must be prevented from developing that capacity to build a nuclear weapon and deliver it.” The arms deal includes KC-135 aerial refueling tankers, anti-air defense missiles and tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey troop transport planes for Israel, and 25 F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to the UAE.
From Israel, the Secretary of Defense continues to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
debkafile’s military sources report that this arms package will take years to deliver. Meanwhile, Secretary Hagel’s talks in Israel were strongly deflected from the nuclear Iran issue by the hotter Syrian crisis, as we reported Sunday.
This was confirmed by the French Le Figaro in its report Monday that Jordan had opened two corridors of its airspace to Israeli Air Force drones seeking to monitor the ongoing conflict in Syria. The Western military source in the Middle East who was cited said Israeli drones fly at night to avoid detection and are also armed and able to hit targets anywhere in Syria.
This report was not confirmed by Israel or Jordan.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was more open when he said in a BBC interview on April 18 that Israel has the right to prevent weapons falling into the wrong hands in Syria. If terrorists seized anti-aircraft and chemical weapons, they could be game changers in the region. Asked if Israel was involved in any action in the Syrian conflict, Netanyahu said he would not confirm or deny this.
He spoke the day after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered 200 troops of the US 1st Armord Division to deploy in Jordan. According to the Pentagon statement, the force will “create an additional capability” for the United States to "potentially form a joint task force for military operations…and be ready for military action if President Barack Obama were to order it.”
According to debkafile’s military sources, the various military movements around Syria, especially in Jordan and Israel, are laying the groundwork for potential US-Arab-Israeli activity against Syria.