Israel has “good capabilities” when it comes to tracking attempts by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime to transfer its chemical weapons to others, such as terrorist organizations, Yuval Steinitz, the international relations, intelligence and strategic affairs minister, said on Sunday.
Asked by morning news program host Razi Barkai whether Israel would see if Assad attempts to hide his chemical weapons by transferring them to allies in Lebanon or Iraq, Steinitz told Army Radio, “Israel has good capabilities, and has drawn a red line over the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah.”
Steinitz refrained from “giving a grade” to US President Barack Obama’s administration over its deal with Russia to oversee the chemical disarmament of Syria, but did say that arrangement has “advantages and disadvantages.”
The disadvantage lay in the agreement’s extended time frame, which would allow “many things to happen,” Steinitz said, adding, “we know Assad.”
He raised the possibility that a rebel group could use chemical weapons and give Assad the excuse to cancel the agreement.
“The advantage is that it’s a very thorough agreement,” the minister added.
He said that “even if Assad gives up chemical weapons he used to execute 1,400 people, this doesn’t excuse him from punishment.”
Using an analogy, Steinitz said it made little sense to pardon a murderer who shot dead victims just because “he turned over his gun.”
Asked by Barkai whether Israel would now come under pressure to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Steinitz said he would not reply to the question. He then said that the scenes in Syria underline the fact that Israel must rely on itself, “not the UN, not the US with all due respect, and not NATO.”
“As the prime minister said, ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me?’” he added.
Steinitz said it was unclear how the Iranians will interpret developments in Syria.
“Assad, their ally, does have to give up chemical weapons and their production. I don’t know how this will be interpreted in Iran,” he said.
He warned, however, that every new day sees additional centrifuges added to Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.
“Iranian nuclear weapons are seven times, 77 times more dangerous than Syrian chemical weapons,” he said.
Steinitz praised the policies of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, which, he said, have allowed Israel stay outside of the regional turmoil.
Last week, Steinitz warned that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is about to launch a charm offensive aimed at calming Western fears over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, and hopes to “laugh all the way to the bomb.”
Speaking at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s 13th annual international conference, Steinitz said, “If I read Rouhani correctly, I predict that in near future, maybe at the start of UN General Assembly session... we’ll see an offensive of friendliness and moderation towards the West, to influence Western media, public opinion and leadership in Europe and the US, and to calm fears over a nuclear Iran.”