J'lem ups saber rattling over Syrian chemical arms

IDF chief warns Israeli action to prevent chemical weapons from falling into the hands of Hezbollah could lead to wider conflict.

IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz 390 (R) (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
IDF Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz 390 (R)
(photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)
Israel could face a large-scale conflict in the aftermath of an attack against Syria’s chemical weapons, Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz said Tuesday, while stressing that the weapons were still under President Bashar Assad’s control.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman backed up Gantz’s assessment, saying Tuesday that the transfer of chemical weapons from Syria to Hezbollah was a clear justification for war, and in such a case Israel will act “decisively and without hesitation or restraint.”
Speaking to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Gantz said that the dilemma for Israel was identifying the correct moment to take action to destroy the chemical weapons and prevent them from falling into the hands of terrorist groups like Hezbollah.
“The [Syrian military forces] are guarding it and have even increased security so it will not fall into rogue hands, although this does not mean it will stay that way,” Gantz said. “In the end though there will be a dilemma – to operate in an isolated way, which means we might miss the critical moment, or operate broadly in a way that we could find ourselves very quickly in a larger-scale conflict that anticipated.”
Gantz was understood to be referring to two options – either to use force to prevent a specific transfer or to destroy all of the known chemical weapons facilities before such a transfer takes place.
Speaking at a press conference at the EU-Israel Association Council meeting in Brussels, Liberman said it was no secret that chemical weapons leakage to Hezbollah is Israel’s “biggest concern today.”
A Syrian transfer of chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah is a “red line for Israel,” Liberman said, adding that Israel has “enough information” about “their desire and attempt” to gain chemical and biological arms.
“From our point of view this is a clear casus belli,” he said, using the Latin phrase meaning a justification for war. “We will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint. It will be a completely different ballgame, and we hope for the understanding and cooperation of the international community.”
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Gantz told the Knesset that ongoing Syrian military defections were “feeding” the rebellion and were having a negative impact on the Syrian military. Predictions are that over 12,000 soldiers and officers have already defected including a number of senior officers.
“It is not just that they do not have commanders, but it will also impact the soldiers’ performance over time,” he said.
Earlier in the day, head of the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic Security Bureau Amos Gilad rejected Syrian opposition reports claiming that Assad was moving his chemical weapons stocks.
“At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime,” Gilad told Israel Radio.
Turning to the bombing of a tourist bus in Bulgaria last week that killed five Israelis, Gantz said Israel will find the way to retaliate and restore its deterrence to prevent additional attacks in the future.
“The response will come and will be done responsibly,” he said.
Liberman said it was clear that preventing the use of biological and chemical weapons was a major issue for the international community.
While both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak have warned in recent days that Israel would not tolerate the transfer of chemical weapons to Hezbollah, Liberman’s remarks were the bluntest indication to date that Jerusalem would view such a move as a reason to go to war.