Israel Watching Syrian WMDs

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters/Hamodia) -

Iron Dome deployed in Haifa

Any sign of Syria’s grip on its suspected chemical weapons slipping as it battles an armed uprising could trigger Israeli military strikes, Israel’s vice premier said on Sunday.

Silvan Shalom confirmed a media report that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had last week convened security chiefs to discuss the civil war in Syria and the status of the country’s chemical arsenal.

The meeting, held on Wednesday, had not been publicly announced and was seen as especially unusual as it came while votes were still being counted from Israel’s national election the day before.

Should Lebanon’s Hizbullah terrorists or rebels fighting forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad obtain Syrian chemical weapons, Shalom told Army Radio, “it would dramatically change the capabilities of those organizations.”

Such a development would be “a crossing of all red lines that would require a different approach, including even preventive operations,” he said — alluding to military intervention, for which Israeli generals have said plans have been readied.

“The concept, in principle, is that this [chemical weapons transfer] must not happen,” Shalom said. “The moment we begin to understand that such a thing is liable to happen, we will have to make decisions.”

Interviewed separately by Army Radio, Civil Defense Minister Avi Dichter said Syria was “on the verge of collapse.”

But asked whether Israel perceived an imminent threat, Dichter said: “No, not yet. I suppose that when things pose a danger to us, the State of Israel will know about it.”

France, among the most vocal backers of Syria’s rebels, said last week there were no signs Assad was about to be overthrown since international mediation and crisis diplomacy were going nowhere. The conflict also appears largely stalemated on the ground.

An Israeli government security adviser told Reuters on Sunday that Syria had taken new prominence in strategic planning “because of the imminence of the threat. There the WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) are ready and could be turned against us at short notice.”

Raising the regional stakes, Tehran, among Assad’s few allies, said it would deem any attack on Syria an attack on Iran.

Meanwhile, the IDF deployed two Iron Dome defense batteries in the Haifa area on Sunday, though a spokesman described the move as “routine,” denying any link to developments in Syria.