Encouraged by the determination of Russia and China to veto any attempt to pass a condemning resolution against him in the UN Security Council, Bashar Assad is now throwing into the battle against those who rebel against him and the civil population supporting them all the military means available to him. The city of Homs was yesterday bombarded by artillery and rockets and was attacked from the air by helicopters and fighter aircraft. Dozens of dead civilians were added to the hundreds killed during the last week. Bashar Assad, who as a young man already saw his father putting down a rebellion against him and butchering 20,000 civilians in the city of Hama, has nothing left to lose. He knows what awaits him if and when his regime collapses. He has seen the images of the hanging of Saddam Hussein, the lynching of Muammar Gaddafi by the Libyan rebels, and the trial of Hosni Mubarak which will probably also end by going to the gallows. He is backed for the moment by arms supplied by Russia and Iran, by Hezbollah terrorists that arrived to support him and by senior army commanders who face falling with him when he does.
If this was a straight forward military rebellion in which, for example, armoured divisions were fighting each other in sparsely populated areas, inflicting severe damage on each other’s military capabilities, Israel could have viewed this rebellion as having some benefit in the short term. The massacre that is taking place in Syria these days and the various scenarios as to how it might end are not to Israel’s advantage. Unlike Gaddafi who threatened to do this but lacked the operational capabilities, Assad could take towards the end desperate and unexpected steps that even if will not set the whole Middle East alight, may cause Israel severe damage. These steps may include among others a massive missile attack on targets inside Israel and the transfer of ballistic missiles armed with chemical warheads, and of very advanced weapons like naval cruise missiles and anti-aircraft missiles, to the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon. Even if Israel’s intelligence will identify this transfer, I am not sure how determined is the Israeli government to destroy these weapons the moment they will cross the Syrian-Lebanese border.
The instability and uncertainty that will follow Assad’s likely demise will also not be to Israel’s advantage. During the long years of Bashar Assad’s regime and his father’s, Hafez Assad’s regime before him, and apart from a single week of fighting during the 1973 Yom Kippur War which ended in a Syrian defeat, the Golan Heights border remained calm and stable for 45 years, ever since the Six Days War in 1967. The mayhem that will ensue once the regime falls may well bring with it a prolonged period in which various terror organisations will launch rockets into the Golan Heights and the Upper Galilee from within Syria, with the new Syrian regime not in full control of events as happened with Lebanon and the Hezbollah, and with Israel finding it difficult to identify and act against the perpetrators. If and when these ‘dripping’ of rockets will begin, I am not sure how decisive the Israeli government will be in its response. May I remind you – there were days when rockets on Ashkelon were considered a red line that could not be allowed to be crossed.