A man sits on an old tank as he watches fighting taking place in Syria from the Israeli side of the border fence.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Tuesday’s chemical attack in Syria increased demands in Israel to extend more humanitarian aid to those suffering in that conflict, but has not led to more calls among policy-makers for Israel to take any military action.
Former Military Intelligence head Maj.-Gen. (res.) Amos Yadlin said on Tuesday that Israel should destroy the Syrian planes that dropped the chemical bombs in Idlib, but Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said on Wednesday that Yadlin would not have been so quick to make that suggestion had he still been in his IDF role.
Katz is one of the 10 members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet. Despite a call from Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday for Netanyahu to convene a special session of the body to rethink Israel’s Syria policies, no such meeting was held.
“Israel is weighing very carefully all the action it has to take in Syria today,” Katz said. Referring to reports that Israel has acted militarily over the last couple of years inside Syria, Katz said that this has been done strictly within the framework of defending Jerusalem’s designated redlines: preventing the transfer of advanced weaponry from Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and keeping Iran and Hezbollah from creating an additional front against Israel on the Golan Heights.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post at a press conference whether Israel should move from chemical weapons stockpiles in a 2013 deal brokered by the United States and Russia following the deadly regime attack on East Ghouta near the capital of Damascus where over 1,400 people were killed, including 426 children.
While the regime did comply with destroying many of the stockpiles as well as the infrastructure to produce them, removing over 1,290 metric tons of chemical weapons – including sarin, VX and sulfur mustard, a precursor to mustard gas – according to former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, Israel is under the impression that the regime cheated international inspectors and kept residual amounts of sarin.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Ya’alon said: “We cannot turn our heads aside to what happened, but we cannot intervene militarily. One of the smarter things that Israel has decided was not to intervene in the war, but there are other things that we can do to stop the butchering of the people of Syria.
“We must learn lessons from what happened yesterday. It’s clear that we can only rely on ourselves. We cannot rely on the international community or international bodies such as weapons inspectors.
Ya’alon added: “They [Assad] know how to lie and know how to conceal, and they did that with the international bodies of the weapons inspectors.”
Ya’alon also said he hopes that the US will play a more positive role in the region, a reference to the Obama administration that did nothing when Assad crossed the redline in the Ghoutta attack, stating it was a strategic loss by the Americans when they did that.
He added that the Assad regime most likely gained the confidence to carry out this type of attack after the Trump administration said that getting rid of Assad was no longer a priority for them last week.
Since the 2013 deal, Western intelligence agencies and Syrian opposition figures have accused the Syrian Army’s secretive Unit 450, a branch of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center that is at the center of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons program, of dispersing chemical weapons stockpiles around the country.
Israeli security officials also believe that the Assad regime has been rebuilding and reopening sarin manufacturing plants, albeit in a smaller amount than they had before in 2013.
In December, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, in a rare comment about an Israeli air strike in Syria, said that Israel struck the presumed base of Unit 450 north of Damascus, stopping the transfer of chemical weapons to Hezbollah.
The regime has been accused of having used chemical weapons (mostly mustard or chlorine gas) several times since the deal, but if Tuesday’s attack is confirmed to be sarin, it would be the first time in several years that sarin has been used and the deadliest chemical weapons attack since the Ghouta attack, which prompted then-US president Barack Obama to ask Congress to authorize military action against Syria in 2013.
The dozens of videos circulating on social media sites said to be from the town showed victims, including dozens of children, struggling to breath; many others are seen unresponsive.
Rescue workers who came to the scene were reported to have suffered from severe respiratory distress, and hospitals treating the wounded came under additional air strikes.
The attack was condemned by activists and world leaders around the globe, including by Israeli politicians and officials from all sides of the political spectrum, who called on the international community to act.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly condemned the attack and said that it “underscores the great imperative of the State of Israel to defend ourselves.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett requested an emergency security cabinet session regarding the attack, saying that there is a “systematic genocide being carried out in Syria.”
While Israel has provided aid and medical care to thousands of wounded Syrians, it is unlikely that the Jewish state and it’s army, which remembers the six million Jews who lost their lives to Nazi gas chambers and death camps, will do much more than shed tears and call on the international community to stop the carnage, unless Syria directly threatens Israel and its citizens