IDF may act to stop Syria weapons smuggling

IDF commander says that Israel must obtain intelligence that weapons transfers from Syria to Hezbollah are taking place.

Hezbollah gunman in Beirut_370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Hezbollah gunman in Beirut_370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel will consider using military force to intercept the transfer of advanced weaponry or chemical weapons from Syria to a terrorist organization such as Hezbollah, OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan said on Wednesday.
Speaking in Ramat Gan, at a conference at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies marking the 30th anniversary of the start of the First Lebanon War, Golan said that the first challenge for Israel would be to obtain intelligence that such a transfer had taken place, but that once Israel knew it would need to consider action.
“Would it be wise to intercept such a transfer or would this be nonsense?” Golan asked, presenting the dilemma the government would face.
Also on Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post learned that the IDF’s new assessment regarding Syria predicts that President Bashar Assad will remain in power until the end of 2012 and possibly through 2013.
The IDF had originally predicted that Assad would fall within the first year of the uprising in Syria, which has now entered its 14th month. The most extreme prediction came from Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who repeatedly said over the past year that Assad would fall “within weeks.”
“We were wrong,” a senior IDF officer admitted on Wednesday. “We now understand that he will probably survive 2012 and maybe 2013 as well.”
The officer predicted that Syria would fall into disarray and that while Assad might lose control over parts of the country, he would remain in power in Damascus, protected by the military.
Golan said that Syria was a “failed state” and that terrorists were already “flourishing” within the country.
“Terror is already flourishing in Syria and the terror threat toward Israel is forming,” he said. “It will not happen tomorrow, but we need to be prepared. It is not hard to think of a reality in which al-Qaida elements already in Syria and fighting the regime will start to act against us. It is also possible that without a clear regime, Syria will become another area of operations for Hezbollah.”
Golan said that Tehran was deeply concerned with the possibility that Assad would fall and was providing Syrian security forces with support both directly and via Hezbollah.
“Iran is here and we are fighting a daily war indirectly against Iran, from Islamic Jihad in Gaza to Hezbollah in Lebanon,” he said. “Iran’s influence in Syria is also felt. It is very concerned with the future of its ally Bashar Assad and is trying to help him directly and via Hezbollah.”
Golan issued a direct threat to Hezbollah and said that the IDF would deal it a “fatal blow” and defeat it.
“This defeat will be demonstrated by the capture and killing of Hezbollah fighters, the capture of their weapons and the destruction of their infrastructure,” he said.
On Wednesday, Barak called for tougher action against the Syrian regime, and Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz urged the establishment of a humanitarian corridor.
Barak described the Assad regime’s actions as crimes against humanity that warranted more than expressions of condemnation.
“These events in Syria compel the world to take action, not just talk,” he told a conference at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“These are crimes against humanity and the international community must not stand on the sidelines.”
Turkey instructed Syria on Wednesday to withdraw all its diplomats within 72 hours, in a protest against the massacre of more than 100 civilians in the town of Houla last Friday. The move came after Western powers including the United States, France and Britain took similar action.
Barak praised the diplomatic measures but said they would do little to change the situation on the ground.
“I don’t think that Assad lost an hour’s sleep last night because of those people leaving,” he said. “More concrete action is required” if Assad is to be pushed to relinquish power.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Mofaz said it was only a matter of time before the Syrian leader’s removal.
“The only question is how many innocent people will pay with their lives until then.
Given the atrocities we’ve seen, what the West has done until now isn’t enough. I hope it’s just the first step toward more assertive action,” he said.
“We should open a humanitarian corridor to the people of Syria. Turkey has a key position in this, but we need to examine how we can play an indirect role,” he said. “Once the opportunity arises to help, it’s important Israel be ready to do so.”
In Syria on Wednesday, rebels gave Assad 48 hours to abide by an international peace plan to end violence or face consequences, a rebel spokesman said.
“The joint leadership of the Free Army inside Syria announces that it is giving the regime a final 48-hour deadline to implement the resolutions of the UN Security Council,” Col. Qassim Saadeddine said in a statement posted on YouTube.
“It ends on Friday at 12:00 [noon], then we are free from any commitment and we will defend and protect the civilians, their villages and their cities,” he said.
The announcement came after UN observers said 13 bodies had been discovered bound and shot in the eastern part of the country, five days after a massacre of 108 civilians in Houla, nearly half of them children, ignited a world outcry.
Activists said the victims were army defectors killed by Assad’s forces, but it was not possible to verify their accounts.
Wednesday’s UN observer report underlined how a peace plan drafted by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan has failed to stem bloodshed or bring Syria’s government and opposition to the negotiating table.
Annan’s deputy Jean-Marie Guehenno told the Security Council that Syria’s protesters “have lost fear and are unlikely to stop their movement,” according to a diplomat with knowledge of the closed session.
Guehenno said direct engagement between government and opposition was “impossible at the moment,” and expressed “serious doubts over the commitment of Syrian authorities to the Annan plan,” the diplomat said.
Reuters contributed to this report.