Pay attention to Syria

Wikileaks fully deserves our consideration, regardless of the process by which the documents have become public.

Julian Assange smug 311 REUTERS (photo credit: REUTERS)
Julian Assange smug 311 REUTERS
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Much of what WikiLeaks has been leaking from classified US diplomatic material is of little import, despite the attendant hype and sensation- mongering. Yet, here and there, enveloped in the sheer quantity of minutiae, are indicators that should instill a great deal of worry in all Israelis. The danger is that not enough people pay attention to the truly noteworthy leaks amid the deluge of material.
In the last few days, for instance, there was a great deal of public discourse surrounding the bigoted, derogatory and furiously denied comments about party rivals attributed to Labor MK Isaac Herzog.
Amid that ridiculous hubbub, significant disclosures were overlooked.
Whether or not WikiLeaks is pursing a tendentious and calculated agenda, it is troubling that our public opinion could hardly be bothered with leaked reports of the Mossad’s assessments regarding Hezbollah’s massive missile caches.
And similar relative indifference has been manifested toward leaked documents showing that Syria contemplated attacking Israel with chemical warheads following the destruction of its nuclear facility in 2007 (purportedly carried out by the IAF).
These leaks fully deserve our consideration, regardless of the process by which they have become public.
According to these documents, Israeli and American intelligence analysts met here in November 2009 and their deliberations produced four separate debriefings from the US Embassy to Washington.
From these it emerges that the Mossad is convinced that Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hezbollah is determined to fire as many as 400-600 rockets daily in the next round of hostilities with Israel, 100 of which will be aimed each day at Tel Aviv.
That war, estimate Mossad experts, could last for as long as two months, meaning that as many as 24,000- 36,000 missiles – 6,000 targeting Tel Aviv specifically – could be rained upon Israel from the north alone.
How the Hamas Iranian proxy would behave during that conflict is an unaddressed complication in the deeply worrying equation.
These are not speculative doomsday predictions which we can afford to repress in the far recesses of our collective consciousness. They become all the more relevant in the face of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s teetering position as he strives to hang on to power.
For one thing, the leaked information consistently reinforces allegations that, contrary to its international undertakings, Syria has continued supplying Hezbollah with ballistic missiles, including Scuds. The leaks further indicate that North Korea is stoking the regional arms build-up by providing missile systems to both Syria and Iran, which in turn sustain Hezbollah and Hamas.
The bottom line, in the Syrian context, is that Assad sits on a particularly large and nasty arsenal. Both his late father and he had practiced self-control, making their border with Israel exceedingly quiet to date, while transferring the confrontational brunt to the Lebanese and Gazan fronts. In other words, while the Assad regime had itself avoided open warfare with Israel, it was the nefarious catalyst actively fomenting trouble elsewhere.
It is in part because of his capacity for trouble-making, indeed, that the US has thus far refrained from openly calling for Assad’s removal. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that a relatively stable Syria will help facilitate the American exit from Iraq.
Yet assuming, for argument’s sake, that Assad does not survive the mounting challenges to his rule, into whose hands would his formidable weapons and rocket stockpiles fall? One may disbelieve certain details and incidentals in individual WikiLeaks texts, but their entirety eminently accords with what had been evident from Damascus for too long. Assad has amassed and controls particularly deadly weaponry. For Israel, Assad is a cunning enemy. The danger is that he may well be supplanted by even more malicious, yet lessrestrained enemies.
OF ALL the regime changes and uprisings-in-progress the Mideast has been witnessing, the Syrian one potentially harbors the greatest existential hazard.
There is not much Israel can – or should – do about Syria’s internal power struggle. But it is essential that Israel gear up for its alarmingly destabilizing potential consequences. The very least we ought to do is pay attention.