JERUSALEM, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Israel is preparing for an influx of Alawite refugees from Syria should President Bashar Assad leave office, the head of Israel's military says.
Assad is a member of the Alawites, who are a minority in Syria, and so if he is removed from power, members of the Shiite sect are expected to seek shelter in Israel, Ynetnews reported.
"The day the Assad regime falls, this is expected to hurt the Alawite sect," Israeli army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said Tuesday. "We are preparing to take in Alawite refugees on the Golan Heights."
Gantz, speaking at the Knesset's Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, also said Israel fears weapons from Syria could end up in Lebanon as a result of the unrest in Syria.
"We must monitor the process," Gantz said.
On the subject of Iran, Gantz said 2012 would be a "critical year" and predicted the Islamic Republic would proceed with development of nuclear ambitions despite international pressure, including stronger sanctions.
He also said he expected changes in leadership in Iran.