Israel, US Preparing for 'the Day After Assad'
Fierce fighting was reported in Syria again Thursday, and skirmishes were reported spilling out of the capital of Damascus into outlying suburbs. Battles between rebels and troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were said to be breaking out south of the city, towards the direction of the border with Israel. IDF officials were keeping a close eye on the situation, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said near the northern border Thursday morning.
Speaking while on a tour of the Golan Heights, Barak said that “you can see the fighting from here. The battles and the attacks on senior Syrian officials Wednesday were a heavy blow to the Assad regime.” Barak said that Israel was preparing for the fall of the regime, and especially for a flood of refugees who may try to cross the border in the event of a change of regime.
Israeli officials are especially concerned that Druze living on the Golan could cooperate with relatives on the Syrian side of the border and help them enter Israel. Last year, Golan Druze tore down several parts of the border fence on the Golan, enabling dozens of Syrians to enter Israel. Earlier this month, reports said that security officials had arrested a Druze resident of Syria who had attempted to enter Israel at the Kuneitra crossing. Security officials have placed a partial gag order on the incident. The IDF has in recent days boosted its presence in the Golan border area to prevent a mass invasion of Syrian refugees.
Meanwhile, a report in the New York Times Thursday said that Israel and the United States were discussing the possibility of Israel's destroying advanced weapons systems in Syria to prevent them from getting into the hands of terrorists in the event of Assad's downfall. The report said that there was a strong likelihood that Hizbullah or other terror groups would seize the weapons systems if there is a breakdown in authority in Syria. The issue was discussed, the report said, this past weekend, when US National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon visited Israel.
The report also cited several officials in President Barack H. Obama's administration as opposing an Israeli raid of the Syrian weapons system, because that might “give Mr. Assad an opportunity to rally support against Israeli interference.”