U.S. officials discuss possibility of Israeli attack on Syria

JERUSALEM (JTA) — U.S. Pentagon officials discussed with Israeli defense officials whether Israel could destroy Syrian weapons facilities in the event of the collapse of the Syrian government, The New York Times reported.

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The Obama administration is not advocating an attack, according to newspaper, citing unnamed American officials. The officials said the administration feared that such an attack would breathe new life into Syrian President Bashar Assad’s power, by shoring up support against Israeli interference.

Several top U.S. administration officials have visited Israel in recent days, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Tom Donilon. Syria was part of their discussions with Israeli leaders, according to the Times.

The news comes a day after a suicide bomb attack on a meeting of top Syrian officials in Damascus killed several of Assad’s closest allies and advisers, including Syria’s defense minister, and Assad’s brother-in-law, who also serves as deputy defense minister. The attack came after four days of clashes in Damascus between government troops and anti-government activists.

During a briefing on the Golan Heights Thursday morning, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that Israel is concerned about chemical weapons scattered throughout Syria falling into the wrong hands, and said that Israel is monitoring that possibility.

“We obviously are not the only player in the region that is anxious; anxious about the fact that an anarchic situation will bring about the transfer of sensitive systems into the wrong hands. There is no small amount of chemical weapons dispersed all around the country and there is a lot of weaponry in the hands of the civilians,” Barak said.

Barak said the military is also monitoring the possibility of a wave of refugees seeking to enter Israel through the Golan, and is prepared to stop them if they do.

“We also estimate that the longer the civil war lasts; the greater the resentment, the greater the will for vengeance, and the greater the anger between the sides. Assad’s fall could therefore lead to a continuous civil war and chaos. In this situation we could also find ourselves with the Golan Heights serving as a new platform from which terrorists could launch attacks against Israel. Therefore we need to have a quiet presence in this area, and be both alert and ready” for every scenario, he said.

On Tuesday, Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi told a Knesset committee that Assad had removed many of his forces from the Golan Heights to the areas of conflict inside Syria, according to news services briefed by a Knesset spokesman.

“He’s not afraid of Israel at this point, but mainly wants to augment his forces around Damascus,” Kochavi reportedly said.

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