A senior Israeli military official said that Israel is closely tracking events in Syria, fearing the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime could see the Syrian Golan Heights fall to groups like Al-Qaeda.
The military official told AFP that such a situation could create a dangerous security vacuum similar to Sinai.
“If the Assad regime will fall, the biggest threat is that the northern border, the no-man’s land, can be taken over by groups like Al-Qaeda,” the official in Israel’s northern command said on condition of anonymity.
The fear is that the strategic plateau could slide into a situation similar to that in Sinai, where a wave of lawlessness has left the Egyptian army struggling powerless to rein in militant activity.
Last year, gunmen snuck across the border from the Egyptian territory and carried out attacks in southern Israel that killed eight people.
“This could happen if the Assad regime collapses,” the official warned.
For Israel, the ongoing bloodshed in Syria has also raised fears that Damascus’s stockpile of sophisticated weapons could fall into the hands of militants.
Last month, Major General Yair Golan, head of the Israeli military’s northern command, said the concern was that Syria’s stockpile of strategic weapons, including “the world’s largest stockpile of chemical weapons,” could end up in Hezbollah’s hands.
The Israeli military official said that although Syrian weapons were continuously being passed to Hezbollah, he was “not aware” that any of them were chemical.
He said Assad’s fall was likely to deal a very heavy blow to Hezbollah, which stood to lose a key ally in terms of weapons and logistical support.
“Hezbollah is very worried about what is going on in Syria because all their logistics are there,” he said.
“If the Assad regime collapses, they will be alone in this region and will have no border with a friend that can help and support it. They are very worried about it,” he said. “That’s why Hezbollah is working very hard to support the Assad regime.”
The military source said he did not see a quick end to the bloodshed in Syria, which was likely to continue “for years.”
“Most of the army is loyal to Assad, he has money to pay their salaries. He is not going to run away,” he said. “This could go on for years.”
But he said fears that Assad could try to deflect world attention by provoking a conflict with Israel had proven to be unfounded.
“The military forces and Assad know very well that if they start a war against Israel, he will lose and his whole regime will be under threat,” he said.
“Today the Syrian military force is not ready for any kind of war.”