The bulk of evidence proving the Assad regime's deployment of chemical weapons, which would provide legal justification for any western military action, has been been provided by Israeli military intelligence, the German magazine Focus reported.
In northern Israel, a military training exercise began on Wednesday in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory that has been occupied by Israel since 1967. There have been numerous incidences of mortar shells and gunfire landing on the Israeli-controlled Golan over the past year, prompting return fire by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) on occasion.
Despite Israeli concerns, it is unlikely that the Assad regime would retaliate against Israel. Assad is completely engulfed in the quagmire at home, and opening up a fully active front against Israel would be the equivalent of shooting himself in the foot.
Large crowds gathered at gas-mask distribution centers across Israel, waiting in long lines for protection kits. Israeli demand for gas masks has tripled in recent days,. About five million Israelis, roughly 60 percent of the population, now have gas masks.
The prospect of a western strike against Syria aside, Assad has no reason to open a second front with Israel. His forces have been doing quite well against the divided rebels. Backing from Shiite fighters from Hezbollah and Iran has helped the regime make gains on the Syrian battlefield, including a victory last month in the central Syrian town of Al-Qusayr, which was a substantial gain for Assad’s forces. Given the capabilities of the Israeli forces and their superior military arsenals compared to Assad’s, it would be suicidal for Assad to attack Israel.
Furthermore, at the current juncture it is unlikely that vehemently anti-Israel Hezbollah will support such a move on Assad’s part. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters to fight alongside Assad’s forces, and has suffered substantial casualties in the process. An attack on Israel could jeopardize Hezbollah’s own security and trigger retaliation from Israel for abetting any such move.
It is also pertinent to note that such a self-defeating attack on Israel has never been attempted previously. Israelis have grappled with similar scares in the past. They spent much of the 1991 Gulf War huddling in bomb shelters bracing for chemical warheads as Saddam Hussein lobbed Scud missiles at the Jewish state, though the threat of a non-conventional attack never materialized. Similarly, at the beginning of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the government instructed Israelis to take gas mask kits with them to school and work in case of a chemical attack. No missiles were fired at Israel in that war.
For now, the biggest threat that Israel faces is not from Assad. It is from the numerous Islamic extremist or Al-Qaeda affiliated groups attempting to establish their authority in a post-Assad future. Israel could then be faced with a much bigger problem. Significantly, during Assad’s rule the tensions between Syria and Israel have been kept in check.
Only in a moment of desperation could Assad possibly make the mistake of carrying out a retaliatory strike against Israel. Such a situation would require his regime facing the prospect of certain defeat under attack from western powers. However, such a move would still entail long-term detrimental consequences for Al-Assad’s allies Hezbollah and Iran. Thus, chances of Al-Assad making the mistake of attacking Israel are minimal.