Senior Israeli military officers, referring to the Syrian foreign ministry statement Monday, July 23, that Syria would only use chemical weapons against “external aggression,” found in it a direct threat by the Assad regime to turn those weapons against Israel. It was Syria’s rejoinder to Israel’s vow to use force against those chemical weapons to prevent them from reaching Hizballah’s hands in Lebanon.
Tensions between Syria and Israel, like its other neighbors – especially Jordan and Turkey – rose to a new pitch in the wake of the new Syrian statement.
Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said plainly Sunday that preventing Syria’s chemical weapons from “falling into the wrong hands” was a key to Israeli security, while Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he had ordered the Israeli military to prepare for a possible attack on Syria’s weapons arsenal, because “Israel cannot accept the transfer of advanced weapons from Syria to Lebanon.”
Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, catching onto Syria’s veiled threat, called it unacceptable: “This is typical of the complete illusion of this regime that they are the victims of external aggression.”
A few hours later, the UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon said in New York that he was “very concerned” that “Syria may be tempted to use chemical weapons.”
He was followed by Pentagon press secretary George Little who told reporters: “They should not think one iota about using chemical weapons,” he said. “We have been very strong in our statements inside the US government on the prospective use of chemical weapons and it would be entirely unacceptable.”
Finally, US President Barack Obama said Monday that “Assad will be held accountable if he makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons.
An Israeli officer told debkafile that the Syrian foreign ministry’s statement was tantamount to a declaration that the Assad regime holds all the cards on when and against whom to use its chemical weapons. America, Israel, Jordan and Turkey have no say in the matter. Assad alone will decide if and when to wage chemical warfare against such enemies as Israel and Jordan, although he may be expected to follow Iran in refraining from going after American targets at this time.
He has, in other words, given himself carte blanche for resorting to chemical warfare at a time of his choosing by reiterating that his government is subject to external Arab and Western aggression.
Israeli sources point out that the Syrian statement omitted any mention – certainly no denial – of the possible transfer of those weapons to Hizballah in Lebanon. The Assad regime must therefore be understood to reserve to itself that option, too, thereby laying Israel wide open to a direct threat. Israel and its military were alone in expressly vowing to prevent this transfer.
“We understand the Syrian ruler to be preparing to expand the Syria war into Lebanon whence his troops can threaten northern and Mediterranean areas of Israel,” said a US military source.
Another development Monday portending the further exacerbation of the Syrian crisis was the announcement by Aeroflot that it was suspending flights to Damascus in two weeks “for economic reasons.”
It looks as though Moscow foresees a further downturn in the Syrian conflict and estimates that by early August intensified air force activity in Syrian skies will reach a dangerous level.
Sunday, July 22, debkafile’s exclusive military sources outlined the military dilemma facing Israel with regard to the Syrian chemical weapon threat.