The average Israeli hardly noticed the war alert the IDF declared Friday, Jan. 25, because for the first time ever, security issues were pushed to the back of most of their consciousnesses by the fascinating political revolution quietly unfolding in their sight since the general election of Jan. 22.
An opinion poll conducted this week showed that had the vote had taken place today, Binyamin Netanyahu and his ruling Likud-Israel Beitenu would have shed more mandates than their 35 to 31 plunge and may even have been overtaken by Yair Lapid’s new Yesh Atid (Future) which netted 19 seats at its first try.
The war alert was ramped up to its peak level Tuesday, Jan 29, the day before the Israeli air strike in Syria.
During those five days, Israeli Air Force jets stood on the runways, their pilots in sitting in cockpits ready to take off within minutes of an order, and large armored and infantry forces massed along Israel’s borders with Syria and Lebanon.
Patriot and Iron Dome missile interceptors mushroomed around Israel’s northern towns and Israeli hospitals were told to stand by for a war emergency and a sudden surge of casualties from the war front, missile attacks or chemical warfare. Television and radio newsrooms kept staff overnight in case of a sudden eruption of hostilities.
Chemical threat triggered unfolding Israeli war alert
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report that the alert was triggered Friday afternoon, Jan. 25 by an order picked up from Hizballah headquarters to the brigades standing ready in the Beqaa Valley of East Lebanon. They were told to advance across the border and deploy outside Syrian chemical weapons stores and facilities.
Embedded in the order was a one-word code telling the Hizballah units to stand by to enter the stores and remove the poison substances to an unspecified destination. The Shiite terrorist group had come close enough to commandeering the weapons for Israeli forces to go on peak alert for moving in.
Early Saturday morning, Jan. 26, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recalled Defense Minister Ehud Barak from a family trip overseas and told him a special Israeli Air Force flight was on its way to bring him home without delay, because hostilities with Syria and Hizballah could erupt at any moment with Iran’s possible involvement.
Barak, who is about to retire, was at his Defense Ministry office in Tel Aviv later that morning. With IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, and his deputy, Maj Gen. Gadi Eizenkott, until recently OC Northern Command and therefore conversant with the Syrian and Lebanese fronts, preparations for a war contingency were put in place.
Attack on Syria tantamount to attack on Iran
Tehran is kept fully abreast of events in Syria by its early warning station on the Syrian peak of the Hermon ridge opposite the Golan and northern Israel. This electronic facility constantly sweeps Israel for every military movement on land, sea and air. In the light of its input that Saturday, Ali Akbar Velayati, one of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s closest aides, went on record with a warning that Iran would deem any attack on Syria an attack on itself:
"Syria has a very basic and key role in the region for promoting firm policies of resistance [against Israel]… For this reason an attack on Syria would be considered an attack on Iran and Iran's allies."
This was the first time an Iranian official had explicitly committed Tehran to war action over Syria.
The next day, Sunday, January 27, a second chemical war threat raised its head in Syria.
It centered on the Menagh Air Base (or Minnigh airport, Minakh Air Base), a Syrian Air Force installation six kilometers south of Aleppo – originally home to the Syrian 4th Flying Training Squadron, MBB 223 Flamingo trainer aircraft and Mi-8 helicopters.
But last December, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources report, President Bashar Assad ordered the base’s conversion to a chemical warfare site, housing missiles and rockets fitted with chemical warheads and bombs filled with sarin nerve gas.
This arsenal was located ready for use as needed against the Syrian rebel concentration in Aleppo and the northern region of Idlib.
Also moved into the Menagh Air Base were Iranian- and Syrian-made short- and medium-range surface-to-surface missiles, many of them adapted to chemical warheads.
Islamist terrorists race for chemical attack on Israel
Syrian rebels have fought repeatedly to seize the strategic Menagh Air Base, but Sunday saw them massing in large numbers around the base and, as the week wore on, coming close to seizing this chemical arsenal.
The rebel force closing in on the base is reported by our military experts as consisting of three groups: The Al-Qaida-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusrah; the al-Tawhid (Unity) Brigade – the Free Syrian Army’s Aleppo unit, which has three subsections, the Fursan al-Jabal Brigade, the Daret Izza Brigade and the Ahrar al-Shamal Brigade; and the Suqour al-Sham Brigade – the Falcons of the Levant Brigade, another FSA unit, which is assigned to the Idlib front.
The ideology these FSA groups share has been described as Islamist but not jihadist, although some of their officers and fighters are close to Jabhat al-Nusrah.
Israeli and American military and intelligence analysts agree that if the Menagh Air Base falls into the hands of any or all these three rebel forces, they won’t hesitate to conduct mass executions of the Syrian troops and officers defending the base, or fire chemical missiles at regime targets inside Syria or at Israel and Jordan.
Israel was further troubled by a video posted on the Internet depicting gunmen holding up cans containing chemicals and threatening to hurl them at Syrian troops – evidence that Islamist terrorists in rebel ranks and backed by foreign powers, have acquired chemical weapons.
A second video showed the bodies of rabbits dead from inhaling poison gases.
Is Qatar ready to fund chemical arms for Syrian rebels?
British newspapers of Jan. 21 carried an email exchange between two senior officials of the British-based contractor Britam Defence outlining a scheme “approved by Washington” explaining that Qatar was ready to fund rebel use of chemical weapons in Syria.
In Israel, this rush of infromation confirmed their fears that the three rebel forces closing in on the Syrian air base are racing each other in a contest for the first to shoot a chemical missile at an Israeli civilian or military target.
The apprehension decided Israel’s armed forces to elevate its war level alert on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 29.
One plan drawn up for averting the threat is to drop large special force units on the Menagh Air Base to take charge of the base and its chemical and missile arsenals, followed by large cargo transports and helicopters that would lift the arsenal out to Israel.
This was only one of the contingency plans drafted in Israel for surgical strikes on the dangerous facilities dotted around Syria.
Israel and American military and intelligence experts are of the opinion that neither Bashar Assad nor Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah will take Israel military action in Syria for long and will eventually send their troops on the offensive for retaliation.