The Assad regime appears to be edging ever closer to disintegration, and the US and its allies may soon have to activate military contingency plans to secure or destroy Syria’s arsenal of deadly chemical weapons.

As Israeli defense officials have noted in recent weeks, the crumbling of Syria presents a formidable threat to national, regional and global security, a threat that is developing right on Israel’s doorstep.

The presence of disorganized armed militias – some of them affiliated with hardline Islamist-jihadi movements – in a land that hosts what some analysts consider the largest number of chemical weapons in the world creates a clear danger that cannot be ignored. Without external intervention, rebel fanatical elements or Assad’s close ally Hezbollah may try to raid abandoned chemical weapons storage facilities.

Assad is in possession of large quantities of deadly Sarin and mustard gas compounds, as well as VX nerve agents. Some of the compounds can be affixed to Scud missiles as chemical warheads. The chemicals can also be placed in specialized artillery shells, or dropped from the air.

It is safe to assume that the US and others have long been preparing contingency plans to deal with this scenario, which could involve a mix of ground forces and air strikes.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon calculated that it would have to deploy 75,000 soldiers to fully secure the weapons sites around Syria, according to a CNN report. The projection was based on the estimation that Syria has some 50 chemical weapons production sites spread out across the country, in addition to storage and research centers. The report named Hama, Homs, Al-Safira and Latakia as locations with production facilities.

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Middle East and Syria expert Prof. Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that a move against the chemical weapons could come before Assad’s final collapse, if the Syrian dictator were to lose control of the weapons sites before falling from power.

That could constitute the most dangerous scenario, as it might leave room for the dying regime to respond to external intervention.

“A pinpoint strike on a warehouse or an underhanded operation probably won’t get a response and won’t change anything,” Zisser said.

But a larger operation could result in the remnants of Assad’s regime ordering a missile strike, he warned.

Therefore, a larger operation by the US would necessitate an attack on Syria’s air force and missile sites to prevent a response, he added.

Another scenario, as depicted by Lt.-Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, posits Assad as transferring “most of the surviving loyal forces and strategic (including chemical) weaponry to the Alawite enclave in the west of the country to serve as a deterrent to acts of revenge and a political card for ensuring the Alawite community’s status in a future Syrian order.”

It remains unclear whether Assad would be able to implement such a move, and if he could, whether it would warrant intervention.

Syria has also been accused of operating a secret biological weapons program. While few details are available on counter-measures in this field, Israel is considered to have the most advanced defense program against biological weapons in the world.

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