Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

November 12, 2012

Israel drawn into Syria fighting for first time

(Continued)

Yiftah Shapir, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank, said neither Israel nor Syria has an interest in allowing Sunday's hostilities to spin out of control.

"I see the warning fire as an attempt to prevent any escalation," he said. "In Israel, no one wants a war with Syria or even an attempt to intervene in the events. The only thing that worries us is a spillover by this form or another. So I think it's a warning: 'Take care.'"

For Assad, a war with Israel could bring the end of his teetering regime. Israeli officials have said for months that it is only a matter of time before he is ousted.

The Israeli air force has repeatedly demonstrated its superiority over Assad's outdated military, buzzing his residence in one famous instance to protest attacks by Syrian-backed militants and carrying out an airstrike on what the U.S. later said was an unfinished nuclear reactor.

Nonetheless, Israel worries the fall of Assad could have a range of grave consequences.

Officials have repeatedly warned that Assad may attack Israel in a final act of desperation if he fears his days are numbered. Israel also fears Syria could fall into the hands of Islamic extremists or descend into sectarian warfare.

Another lingering fear is that Syria's chemical weapons and missile could fall into the hands of its Lebanese ally, the Hezbollah guerrilla group, or other anti-Israel militants if Assad loses power. There are also concerns that Syria could become a staging ground for attacks by al-Qaida-linked groups battling Assad.

The aftermath of Egypt's revolution has provided Israel with reason to worry about its frontier region with Syria: Egypt's Sinai desert on Israel's southern border has turned even more lawless since longtime Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February 2011, and Islamic militants are now more easily able to use it as a launching ground for strikes against southern Israel.

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