Israel’s Red Line: Fate of Syrian Chemical Weapons May Trigger War
As the battle against Syrian rebels reaches a new stage, Israel is worried that President Assad might use his vast arsenal of chemical weapons against his own people or neighbors — or perhaps even give some to Hezbollah. Though many experts view this as unlikely, Israel is still weighing whether to strike.
The small village of Buqata is located on the Israeli side of the border that extends across the Golan Heights. From here, it’s possible to see deep into Syrian territory. Right at the foot of the hill lies Jubata al-Khashab, a town just 55 kilometers (34 miles) southwest of Damascus, Syria’s capital.
Every day, hundreds of concerned Israelis have been gathering along the barbed wire at the border and using binoculars to gaze at their neighbors in Jubata al-Khashab, who have been subjected to artillery fire in recent days. Thick clouds of smoke have been billowing from concrete apartment complexes there.
The war is close by and, whenever an Arab dictator falls, anxiety spreads throughout Israel: Will the toppling tyrant drag the Jewish state and perhaps the entire region into chaos? This fear already existed back in 2003 when the US and its allies attacked Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein. It was a similar story with the fall of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and, to a certain degree, the demise of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Now, this fear has been rekindled.
Last Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan saw Syrian ruler Bashar Assad on the way to stepping down and thought preparations for a “new era” were underway. The regime in Damascus, though, announced the decisive battle in the power struggle with the rebels — in Aleppo, the country’s largest city, right near the Turkish border.
Last week, Assad deployed thousands of soldiers to the north to win back this city of 2 million inhabitants, where 5,500 regime opponents are reportedly entrenched. A decisive battle in, of all places, Aleppo, this ancient center of trade and commerce, whose old city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site? US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland subsequently warned of an impending “massacre.”