Steinitz offers cautious optimism on Syrian chemical weapons handover

Likud Minister does not have "full faith" in Russian proposal, but says it has potential to end tragedy in Syria, threat to Israel.

Yuval Steinitz 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Yuval Steinitz 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
A senior Israeli official voiced cautious support on Thursday for Syria giving up its chemical weaponry under a Russian proposal being considered by the United States.
"I cannot say that we have full faith, but if this Russian proposal ... will really remove the chemical weaponry from Syria, first of all, and will then dismantle it ... then this is a way to end this tragedy and a way to end this threat too," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio.
Steinitz's words seemed to support Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's comments on Wednesday regarding the Russian proposal, when he likewise offered tempered optimism.
"Now what needs to be ensured is that the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons will be dismantled and the world will ensure that anyone who uses weapons of mass destruction will pay a price," Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said that Iran will be closely following the extent to which the West follows through on Syria's offer to hand over its chemical weapons arsenal.
Steinitz said implementation of the plan should also require that Moscow "guarantee Syria is cleansed of chemical weaponry."
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are due to meet in Geneva on Thursday to try to agree on a strategy to eliminate the Syrian arsenal.
Wary of appearing to meddle in the big-power struggle over the Syrian civil war that has escalated since President Bashar Assad's forces' alleged gas attack near Damascus on Aug 21, Israel has largely avoided public comment.
Netanyahu on Wednesday demanded the Assad government be "stripped of its chemical weapons" but stopped short of specifically endorsing the Russian proposal, which has been accepted by Damascus.
The remarks by Steinitz suggested that Israel would want any consensual decommissioning of Syria's chemical arsenal to be expedited by sending it abroad first.
David Friedman, a former counter-proliferation official with the Defense Ministry, told Reuters that neutralizing the weapons inside Syria could take 1-2 years but that the process could be shortened were they shipped out to Russia, which is better equipped with chemical counter-agents and incinerators.