Israel commentators have warned of a devastating Israeli blow should Syria implement threats being voiced in Damascus to retaliate against Israel for any American strike on Syrian territory.

"The Israeli Air Force could relatively easily change the status quo in the Syrian civil war [in the rebels' favour]," said Ehud Ya'ari, a leading commentator on Channel Two.

Military Affairs correspondent Ronnie Daniel said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would probably be unable to remain in power after such a blow. This makes it unlikely that Syria would attempt to fire missiles into Israel, with chemical warheads or without.

"They would probably opt for terrorism along the border or elsewhere in the world," he said.


However, he said the threat of missiles could not be entirely dismissed.

A member of the Syrian Baath Party national council, Halef al-Muftah, said that Syria regards Israel as being "behind the aggression and therefore it will come under fire" should the United States attack.

"We have strategic weapons [a reference to long-range missiles] and we can retaliate," he told Sawa Radio. "Essentially, the strategic weapons are aimed at Israel." Al-Muftah was until recently an aide to Syria's propaganda minister.

Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad told AP that strikes against Syria would trigger "chaos" and threaten world peace. Similar warnings have been sounded by Iranian officials.

Israeli experts believe that the blow likely to be directed at Syria by the US and perhaps other Western countries will be powerful but a one-time affair intended to punish, not to overthrow, the Assad regime.

Israel's Channel Two earlier reported that the chemical shells that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians last week were fired from a military base in a mountain range outside Damascus where Syria's 4th Armoured Division is headquartered. The division is commanded by Maher al-Assad, brother of President Bashar al-Assad.