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As President Obama presses the case for military action in Syria and members of Congress debate whether to authorize that action, Israel is watching developments unfold with great division over whether the United States should act and great apprehension about what might replace a deposed Assad regime.
Congress is expected to vote next week on whether to authorize force against Syria. If approved, the military action could begin at any time. What's not clear to Israelis is what impact the strikes would have, and that uncertainty is prompting strong divisions over whether an attack would be good for them.
"We don't know what we will have after Assad, if he will go," said retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Elihu Ben-Onn, who is now a radio talk-show host in Jerusalem. "We don't know who will come after him and what will happen in Syria. Will Syria be divided into three, four or five parts? Maybe al-Qaida will come closer and then jihad will come close to the border. Israeli public opinion is very confused."
Gen. Ben-Onn told WND Israel does benefit from two radical Islamic elements warring with each other rather than trying to attack and agitate Israel. Still, he said he hopes the U.S. is effective in deterring Assad from further chemical weapons attacks on his own people.
He is also convinced that if the U.S. does strike, a Syrian counterattack against Israel is unlikely.
"They have the power, maybe, to attack Israel, but they know if they would dare to do that the response of Israel will be so strong that, according to many officials in the state of Israel, the regime of Assad will disappear," said Ben-Onn, who notes that Bashar Assad has never attacked Israel.
"He will not try to play this game this time," he said. "If he does play this game, it might be the last day of his position as the president of Syria."
Press reports from the Middle East confirmed Israel and the United States conducted joint missile exercises recently. Ben-Onn stressed this was a planned exercise and not specifically in response to the ongoing standoff. However, he said missile defense preparedness does send a pretty clear message.
He said, "I hope this message is clear to the Russians, and to the Syrians and to the Iranians that Israel will always protect our citizens."