Jerusalem concerned by Syria’s chemical weapons

Netanyahu tells Texas senator-elect that Israel, US closely monitoring, coordinating on Damascus's stockpile of weapons.

PM shakes hands with Republican senator-elect Ted Cruz 370 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
PM shakes hands with Republican senator-elect Ted Cruz 370
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Israel is increasingly concerned that Damascus’s stockpile of chemical weapons could “become a part of the Syrian crisis,” a government official said Monday, explaining comments on the matter Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made prior to meeting visiting Republican senator-elect Ted Cruz from Texas.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement following the meeting, underlining the chemical weapons issue.
According to the statement, Netanyahu told Cruz – on his first visit to Israel – that Washington and Jerusalem share not only common values, but also common dangers.
“One of these dangers is the unfolding events in Syria,” he said. “We’re monitoring very closely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
[US] President [Barack] Obama has spoken forcefully about this. Israel and the United States have close consultations about this issue and it highlights the dangers of these regimes receiving such weapons, and that these weapons can even go from there to terrorist organizations.”
“This is a threat to Israel, a threat to America, a threat to others in this region. We treat it accordingly.”
That the prime minister stressed this issue, and that his office decided to release his comments on the matter to the press – out of all the issues that were discussed between the two men – underscores the heightened sensitivity to the matter in light of the continued bloodshed and growing chaos in Syria.
Explaining Netanyahu’s comment, the government official said it was important that “all the actors in Syria understand that this is a very sensitive issue not only for Israel, but for the entire international community.”
He said “irresponsible behavior” with the chemical weapons would not be tolerated.
“We were not speaking this way two or three weeks ago,” the official added.
Without elaborating, he said, “there are reasons for our concerns.”
Cruz, a Cuban American who won his state’s senate seat in November, said he believed the US should stand “unshakably” alongside Israel. “I thank you personally, I thank your nation for its leadership for democratic values in a very dangerous region of the world.”
Cruz continued giving thanks “for your leadership protecting the security of the nation and ultimately of the United States as well, with respect to weapons of mass destruction – whether in Syria or Iran or elsewhere. I look forward to continuing to work together to strengthen that friendship,” he said.
Meanwhile, Damascus said it is “genuinely worried” that some countries might equip extremist groups with chemical weapons and then claim they were used by the Syrian government, the country’s UN envoy said in a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.
Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari also accused the US government of supporting “terrorists” there and waging a campaign that claims Syria could use chemical weapons in the 20-month-old civil war that has killed at least 40,000 people.
“Since the issue was raised, Syria has stated countless times that it will not under any circumstances use any chemical weapons that it may have against its own people,” he said.
The issue of chemical weapons in Syria is likely to come up on Tuesday as well, when Netanyahu meets visiting Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip.
Ansip arrived on Monday for a 24-hour visit, the first by a European leader since diplomatic tensions flared between Israel and the EU over the EU’s November vote on the Palestinian state issue in the UN General Assembly, and the Europeans’ furious reaction to Israel’s announcement of plans to further construction plans in E1 linking Jerusalem to Ma’aleh Adumim.
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Estonia was one of 12 EU countries that abstained on the Palestinian upgrade bid at the UN. Fourteen EU states voted for the resolution, and only the Czech Republic, among the 27 EU states, voted against it.
Estonia’s vote at the UN was discussed during a meeting soon after Ansip’s arrival, which he held with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman.
Liberman’s recent verbal attacks on the EU, on the other hand, were not discussed.
This was Liberman’s last official meeting as foreign minister before his resignation comes into effect Tuesday morning.
Reuters contributed to this report.