PM, US lawmakers discuss cooperation on Syria

Gov't officials say Netanyahu talking with visiting US legislators about cooperation on Syria's chemical weapons.

Chemical Weapons (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS)
Chemical Weapons (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In recent days Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has discussed with visiting US legislators Israeli-US intelligence cooperation regarding Syria's chemical weapons, including images Israel passed on to the Pentagon apparently showing Syrian troops mixing chemicals and filling dozens of bombs with them, government officials said Tuesday.
Netanyahu met with Democratic Florida Senator Bill Nelson on Tuesday, Kentucky Republican senator Rand Paul on Monday, as well as a delegation on the same day of seven visiting Republican congressman, led by California's Darrell Issa.
The New York Times on Tuesday reported that in late November, Israel's top military commanders discussed with the Pentagon satellite imagery showing what appeared to be Syrian troops mixing chemicals – probably the nerve gas sarin – at two storage sites and filling dozens of 500-pound bombs.
According to the report, this resulted in a "remarkable show of international cooperation" that included a public warning by US President Barack Obama, and sharp private messages to Syrian leaders through Russia, Iraq, Turkey and possibly Jordan that stopped the chemical mixing and bomb preparation.
In recent weeks Netanyahu has spoken on a number of occasions about the close cooperation on the matter that exists between Israel, the US, and "other countries" on the matter.
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In mid-December the Prime Minister's office issued a statement following a meeting with Texas senator-elect Ted Cruz, underlining the chemical weapons issue.
Netanyahu, according to the statement, told Cruz, "We're monitoring very closely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. President 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 Netanyahu stressed this issue, and that the PMO at the time decided to release his comments to the media underscored heightened sensitivity to the issue at the time in light of the unending 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.
The official, without elaborating at the time, but in hindsight apparently referring to the intelligence information that was passed on, said, "We were not speaking this way two or three weeks ago," and that there were "reasons for our concerns."
On Tuesday the official said that the close US-Israel coordination on the matter is continuing, "because the problem is continuing."
Netanyahu reportedly held secret discussions in Jordan in late December concerning the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons.