Gantz: Chances of Syrian chemical attack ‘very low’

IDF chief of staff says risk of conventional terrorism growing as al-Qaida-affiliated groups take hold.

Gantz with reservist paratroopers 370 (photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
Gantz with reservist paratroopers 370
(photo credit: IDF Spokesman)
The chance of a chemical weapons attack from Syria is “very, very low,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Sunday, though he added that the risk of conventional terrorism was growing as al-Qaida-affiliated groups there take hold.
“There are defensive and offensive solutions [to chemical weapons],” Gantz said, speaking to high school students in Jerusalem. “I don’t think this is the first problem that will occur.”
The IDF has not identified any attempts to transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah, “but we’re not ruling this out [as a future development],” he said.
“The Syrian border has been one of Israel’s quietest frontiers for 40 years,” the chief of staff noted, warning that in light of the growth of global jihad groups in Syria, “it’s not clear that it will stay that way. We hope it will stay quiet, but hope is not a working plan. Hence, we are preparing operationally... and we will know how to meet any threats that come from this front.”
Meanwhile, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Security- Diplomatic Bureau, Amos Gilad, told Army Radio on Sunday that Syria’s large arsenal of chemical weapons was “being secured by the [Assad] regime.”
“The problem with this situation is that it is fluid,” Gilad said. “It depends on developments in a country in very advanced stages of disintegration, though the regime is managing to secure the chemical weapons.”
He added that the Syrian regime “knows that if it loses control of its chemical weapons there will be severe consequences.... We must keep our eyes open and constantly update our evaluations.”
Gilad said there were two terrorist organizations in Syria – al-Qaida and Hezbollah – and both had to be monitored.
“We shouldn’t be threatening, but evaluating,” Gilad said when asked if the Israel Air Force would strike chemical weapons sites the moment the regime lost control of them.
“There is international cooperation on this issue,” he said.
“Jordan, Turkey, the US and surely Russia, too, oppose a loss of control over these dangerous weapons. This is the focus of international concerns.”
Also on Sunday, a flurry of reports appeared in the Arab press revealing Saudi Arabia’s growing frustration with Iran and Hezbollah’s role in boosting Assad.
An article in the Saudi-backed newspaper Asharq al-Awsat by Huda al-Husseini claimed that Iran was becoming more involved in the conflict.
“Iran is working to place all of Lebanon under its control,” she wrote, something that would secure its hold in the Levant if Assad were to fall.
Husseini went on to cite sources claiming that in January Hezbollah began recruiting Syrian officers from Assad’s Alawite sect, convincing them to seek refuge in Lebanon in case Assad fell so as to protect them from Sunni reprisals. The move would strengthen Hezbollah’s ranks with skilled military officers, she said.
The deal, according to the article, involves offering asylum for the Syrian officers’ families in return for helping Hezbollah’s military capabilities.
The officers would train Hezbollah members in the use of weapons systems that were transferred last year from Syria.
Hussein wrote that Hezbollah was most interested in “Syrian officers that are fully experienced in the use of modern weapons systems, particularly Russian-made, such as longrange rockets and anti-aircraft missiles.”
According to the report, Hezbollah forces working in coordination with the army in Syria are in contact with various units. Hezbollah has been worried about the possibility of Assad falling and the Sunni opposition, with international support, uniting against it. It is thus trying to secure its supply lines.
Another article in the same publication, penned by Tariq Alhomayed, said Iran was very worried about Assad’s potential fall and quoted Mehdi Taeb, an Iranian cleric, as stating: “If we lose Syria we cannot maintain Tehran.”
An article that appeared on the Al-Arabiya website on Sunday stated that Khaled Daher, a Lebanese legislator affiliated with the anti-Hezbollah Future bloc, claimed the Lebanese government was transferring arms to the government in Damascus.
According to the website, Daher said the Hezbollah-dominated Lebanese government was allying itself with Syrian President Bashar Assad, adding that the Lebanese army and intelligence services were aware of the transfers. He reportedly revealed documents backing up his claims.
The report also noted that Lebanon continues to be flooded by Syrian refugees, with the UN stating on Saturday that 283,000 had fled to Lebanon.
Sunnis in Lebanon who are sympathetic with the Syrian opposition are continuing to block fuel deliveries to Syria from Beirut, according to a report in the Lebanese Daily Star.
Meanwhile, the Syrian National Council, which is the main Syrian opposition bloc, accused Hezbollah on Sunday of “military intervention” in Syria, using “heavy weapons openly and under the auspices of the Syrian regime army,” according to an article on the Gulfnews website.
The media of the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis continues to support their narrative and promote the story that the Syrian opposition was dominated by Sunni radicals, many of whom were backed by al-Qaida-linked radical groups such as the Al-Nusra Front.