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IDF on High Alert as Syria's Assad Goes Missing

With the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad teetering on the brink of collapse, Israel's security officials are looking north.
By Gabe Kahn
First Publish: 7/19/2012, 6:07 PM

Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad
Flash 90

The IDF raised its alert level and canceled weekend leaves in some units on Thursday as the situation in Syria continues to destabilize.

A bomb in Damascus on Wednesday killed several members of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, including Defense Minister Daoud Rajha, General Hassan Turkmani, and Assad's brother-in-law Assef Shawka, who was Syria’s Interior Minister.

Several other key officials were seriously wounded in the attack, and Assad's whereabouts are presently unknown.

For Israel, this raises several potentially dangerous scenarios, not the least of which involves the security of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Jerusalem is concerned they could end up in the hands of the Hizbullah terror organization.

Also of concern is whether factions among Syria's fragmented rebel insurgency may gain access to its advanced weapons systems and turn them against the Jewish state.

Another worry is that the now incommunicado Assad may see the end of his own rule as inevitable and decide to do as much damage to Israel as possible as his regime collapses. Most analysts, however, see this scenario as highly unlikely.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday toured Israel's frontier with Syria and spoke with reporters.

“There are also people who came to Syria from outside – from Global Jihad and al-Qaida and other Islamists – meaning that as long as the fighting carries on we will have even greater chaos in Syria the day after Assad,” Barak said.

On Wednesday night, Barak conferred with the IDF General Staff and US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta before briefing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the situation in Syria.

“We believe that the assassination of the top Syrian government officials will speed up Assad’s downfall,” Barak said after his consultations. “We are also closely tracking the possibility that Hezbollah will try to move advanced military platforms or chemical weapons from Syria to Lebanon.”

Rebel fighters from the Free Syrian Army and other anti-Assad insurgent groups have weathered Damascus' brutal crackdown on dissent and taken the fight straight into the capital – once Assad's impregnable bastion – in recent months.

UN officials say at least 12,500 people – most of them civilians – have been killed during the 16-month popular uprising turned civil war that has rocked Syria since March 2012.

Navi Pillay – the top UN rights official – said earlier this year there is ample evidence to prosecute Assad for crimes against humanity for his force's brutal conduct in attempting to supress the Syrian revolt.

Assad's forces have been accused of the systemic rape, kidnapping, torture, and mass execution of Syrians living in dissident and rebel strongholds.