Some stray shells and bullets flew into Israeli-held territory during those clashes in November, drawing retaliatory fire that killed two Syrian soldiers. It was the first shooting across the cease-fire line since a disengagement accord was reached after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Though calm has returned to the area for now, Israel has made contingency plans for what the upheaval in Syria could bring, particularly to the frontier on the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Israeli officials say they have two main concerns should Assad be overthrown: that Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist militants, such as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon, and that a breakdown of security in Syria, particularly near the Golan frontier, could lead to militant attacks against Israeli targets across the cease-fire line.
In public remarks Sunday at the weekly meeting of his cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel is building a fence along the Golan line and that Syrian forces had pulled back from the frontier area, replaced by radical Islamist groups. Although those militants are for now battling the Syrian regime, Israeli officials are concerned that if Assad is ousted, the groups could turn their attention to Israel.
Netanyahu also expressed concern about Syria’s chemical weapons, saying that because “the Syrian regime is very unstable, the question of its chemical weapons worries us.” He said Israel was “coordinating our intelligence and assessments with the United States and others with the aim of being prepared for any scenario and possibilities that could develop there.”
Netanyahu met recently with Jordan’s King Abdullah II for discussions on Syria’s chemical weapons, according to a report last month in the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi. Israeli media said the meeting was confirmed by Israeli officials, though Netanyahu’s office declined to comment on the reports or on suggestions that Israel was weighing military action against the chemical arms stockpiles.
Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli minister for strategic affairs, said in an interview that Israel had warned Syria in recent months about the possible loss of control over its chemical arsenal.
“We conveyed a warning message that for us this is a red line, and then we indeed saw the Syrian regime organize to better protect these weapons, to concentrate them in a safer place and separate materials,” Yaalon said.
Amos Gilad, a top Israeli Defense Ministry official, recently told Israel Army Radio that Syria’s chemical weapons “are under control” for now.