JERUSALEM, Israel -- Recent reports that the head of Syria's chemical warfare division may have defected have alarmed Israel and the United States.
Israeli and U.S. officials are concerned about what could happen to vast supplies of chemical weapons if President Bashar Assad's regime falls.
Into the Wrong Hands
The horrific fighting in Syria has pitted bitter rivals against one another, Jonathan Spyer, author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict, told CBN News.
"You have already two kinds of very dangerous Islamist terrorist forces in Syria. On the one hand, al Qaeda jihadists…of course, on the other hand -- fighting with the regime or backing the regime -- Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps," he explained.
In the midst of the chaos, Israeli and Western experts fear the wrong group might stumble onto one of Assad's most deadly weapons.
Satellite photos show a chemical weapons site near Homs and a Scud missile base.
Syria is reported to have the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East, along with missiles to deliver them -- missiles that can reach every part of Israel.
That could spell trouble if those weapons fall into the wrong hands.
It's Happened Before
The Middle East is no stranger to chemical weapons. Iraq used them against the Iranians in the 1980s and against Kurdish Iraqis in 1991. Assad's father, Hafez, used them against Muslim Brotherhood protestors in 1982.
Senior Israeli officials are keeping a close watch on Syria's chemical weapons. Israel's deputy chief of staff said Assad's regime could use chemical weapons on Israel as some say he's already used against his own people.
"If the deputy chief of staff has expressed his concern it could…lead us to believe that the intelligence agencies are following…very closely the areas where those chemical weapons are known to be," senior military intelligence officer Jacques Neriah told CBN News.
But what if Syria's weapons fall into other hands, like al Qaeda? Neriah said al Qaeda would have nothing to lose by attacking Israel with chemical weapons.
"They have everything to gain by creating havoc and hurting Israel," he said.
Hezbollah with Chemical Weapons
Spyer said Assad could also try to pass the weapons on to Hezbollah, which is headquartered in Lebanon.
"It's very likely that if and when things start to look like the end game, then I think it's most probable that Assad will start to move that kind of stuff over to Lebanon," he said.
But Spyer said the West will try to prevent that from happening.
"We're hearing reports that the West would consider the possibility of military intervention, perhaps on the pretext or ostensibly to stop massacres and to…defend human rights but really in order to get their hands on the stockpiles as quickly as possible and to stop them from falling into the hands of terrorists," he said.
One reason for that: If terror groups like al Qaeda do get a hold of those weapons, they could aim for other targets aside from Israel, including some in Europe or the United States.
"Any…appropriation of chemical weapons by al Qaeda is not limited to the Syrian theater because al Qaeda would export it to some other places. This is a global threat," Spyer concluded.