By ISRAEL HAYOM—
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Sunday that he sees the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as imminent, and that this will be a major blow to Israel’s regional archrival, Iran. This is the second time that Barak has commented on the imminent demise of Assad. He first said this only months after the Syrian uprising began in March 2011.
Barak’s appearance at a gathering of the world’s top diplomats and defence officials in Germany came days after an Israeli airstrike that the U.S. says hit a convoy of anti-aircraft weapons inside Syria bound for the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Israel has not publicly acknowledged the airstrike.
Barak stopped short of confirming the strike openly, but said:
“I cannot add anything to what you have read…about what happened in Syria several days ago, but I keep telling… that we said, and that is another proof that when we say something we mean it, we say that it should not be allowable to bring advanced weapon systems into Lebanon and Hezbollah from Syria when Assad falls.”
He also said that “Hezbollah from Lebanon and the Iranians are the only allies that Assad has left,” and that the Middle East has not been this unstable since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Barak also said that in his view Assad’s fall “is coming imminently” and when this happened, “this will be a major blow to the Iranians and Hezbollah.”
“I think that they will pay the price,” he said.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Israel on Sunday of trying to destabilise Syria by attacking a military research base outside Damascus last week, and said Syria was able to confront “current threats …and aggression” against it.
Syria’s state news agency SANA said Assad made the remarks in a meeting with Saeed Jalili, Iran’s national security council secretary, at meeting in the Syrian capital. It was Assad’s first reported response to Wednesday’s attack.
Meanwhile, TIME Magazine reported over the weekend that Israel attacked at least three targets in Syria, as opposed to the previously reported two.
Israeli warplanes allegedly struck several targets inside Syria on Tuesday night, including a biological weapons research center that was reportedly flattened out of concern that it might fall into the hands of Islamist extremists fighting to topple Assad’s government, Western intelligence officials told TIME.
According to the report, one of the buildings bombed at the Jamraya compound stored the equipment necessary to deploy chemical and biological weapons. The biological weapons facility was reportedly a serious concern, given the destructive potential of even a small amount of the biological material and al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s known interest in obtaining it.
Israel reportedly received a “green light” from the U.S. to attack additional targets in Syria to prevent strategic weapons from falling into the hands of hostile groups. According to the TIME report, the U.S. itself is even willing to carry out similar strikes around Aleppo if rebels attempt to capture facilities housing weapons of mass destruction.
“We have expressed the concern that we have to do everything we can to make sure that sophisticated weapons like SA-17 missiles or, for that matter chemical biological weapons, do not fall into the hands of terrorists,” outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on Saturday. Panetta said that the U.S. was cooperating with Turkey, Jordan and Israel to ensure that the deadly weapons did not fall into the wrong hands.
Meanwhile, Syrian state TV broadcast footage of the bombed compound in Jamraya, the country’s only formal admission of the alleged Israeli strike. Maj. Gen. Adnan Sillu, head of Syria’s chemical weapons division, said the destroyed compound had been used to produce chemical weapons.
“The attack on the research facility in Damascus will not go quietly,” Syrian Defense Minister Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij said on Saturday. He ordered the Syrian military to raise its alert level. Lebanese media outlets reported that Syria deployed four Scud batteries pointed toward Israel.
Iranian National Security Council chief Saeed Jalili arrived in Damascus over the weekend, pledging his country’s support for the Assad regime.
“We will give all our support so that Syria remains firm and able to face all the arrogant conspiracies,” Jalili said. “The Israeli aggression and arrogant international forces have tried to take revenge by attacking the resisting Syrian people.”
Jalili also described Israel and the West’s attempts as “desperate.”