Israel is becoming increasingly concerned of the threat that Syria's vast arsenal of chemical weapons might fall into the hands of Jihadist organizations. Admitting it does not have the capabilities to prevent such a scenario, Israel looks to the international community, hoping it will act to seize Syria's non-conventional weapons after President Bashar al-Assad's fall. This is partly due to the fact that almost half of the population of Israel lacks protective gear against non-conventional weaponry.
Although it is one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world, estimated at several hundred tons, Israel never considered Syria's non-conventional arsenal a serious threat. For several decades, Israelis lived next to this immense reservoir of nerve gas without fear, knowing that neither Hafez nor Assad would dare use it against Israel, as Israeli retaliation would end their reign.
Moreover, even in the last two years, Bashar has acted responsibly to secure his chemical weapons and prevent them from falling into the opposition's hands. As he has lost control of more and more parts of the country, Bashar has redeployed the weapons into the areas under his control, reinforcing their security, while reassuring Israel through mediators he has no intentions to use them against it.
But now, for the first time, this horrifying arsenal could be left without an owner. Any day now, Assad may be killed or choose to flee the country, leaving behind thousands of bombs and missiles designed to deliver chemical weapons. While most of the Syrian opposition groups have no interest in chemical weapons, the large number of radical Islamist operatives that arrived to Syria in the last year are already coveting these lethal substances.
Israel has made it clear it will not tolerate a transfer of chemical weapons from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon, but senior Israeli officers admit they have no effective way to prevent the fall of non-conventional weapons into the hands of the belligerent organizations in Syria.
"There is no way we could destroy all of the many depots of nerve gas scattered in Syria," said one of them. "Even if we could have destroyed 90% of them, the remaining weapons would still be enough to cause a catastrophe."
Although the US as well as Turkey and Jordan share Israel's concern from the combination of non-conventional weapons and al-Qaeda elements, Israel fears that none of them are prepared to move into Syria once Assad falls and secure the weapons. The US has a small task force deployed in Jordan, while such an operation would require thousands of troops and specialists to take control of the deadly materials. Since there may be no early signals of Assad's fall, there will be no force ready to take up the mission.
Almost half of the Israeli population is equipped with personal ABC kits to protect against chemical weapons. There are additional kits available for another 10% of the population, but in the case of an attack, 40% of the Israelis will be left with no protection gear. The Israeli manufacturers of the kits are not able to close that gap in a short time, after years of reducing the budgets allocated for producing ABC kits.
After two years of inconceivable atrocities committed in Syria, Israel does not have the luxury of being unprepared for the unthinkable.
Alon Ben-David is an Israeli television and print journalist, currently senior defense correspondent for Israel's Channel 10. He has been covering Israeli military affairs for more than 25 years for Israeli and international media outlets.