Israeli gas mask distribution ends – although Syrian and Iraqi Al Qaeda prepare sarin for region
The Israeli security-diplomatic cabinet decided Sunday, Jan. 19, to end the issue of gas masks to the public next month, having concluded that "there has been a significant decline in the threat of chemical weapons being fired at Israel." This decision was highly premature, especially on the eve of the Geneva 2 conference opening in Switzerland Wednesday.
It conveys the impression that Israel’s security and military leaders overrate the practical outcome of that conference and, moreover, believe the threat of chemical warfare from Syria will have been laid to rest by the destruction of a fraction of Bashar Assad’s stocks by an American vessel in the Mediterranean.
These assumptions follow Israel’s consistent misreading of the nearly-three year Syrian crisis from its onset, a process traced by debkafile’s military and intelligence sources:
1. In the early stages of the war, Israeli analysts, especially AMAN (military intelligence), opined that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s days were numbered. Until recently, they insisted that “at the end of the day” he would be finished, when already two years ago, the tide of war had clearly turned in his favor and he has since gone from strength to strength.
3. AMAN underestimated the pivotal military role Hizballah was to play in tipping the balance of war strongly in favor of the Syrian army. To justify this misreading, its analysts estimated that Hizballah would pay a heavy price for its Syrian adventure and erode its strength. In defense of that misconception, they declared that Hizballah was digging itself into a hole.
In fact, Hizballah’s top staff and special forces officers have taken advantage of their presence in the most decisive battles of the conflict to gain valuable combat experience from their collaboration with the Syrian army and Iranian Revolutionary Guards units.
This misreading led to Israeli leaders making threats – which were to prove empty – to forcibly prevent the transfer of advanced weapons systems from Syria to Hizballah’s hands in Lebanon.
In fact, transfers took place on Syrian soil directly to the Hizballah units fighting there. At the same time, Gulf and Lebanese media disclosures in December 2013 that Syria had nonetheless managed to move chemical weapons into Lebanon rated too little attention.
4. Now we come to the crunch. For months, Russian diplomats and senior officials maintained that the big chemical attack of last Aug. 21 on a Syrian suburb which claimed 1,300 lives was not committed by Assad’s army, as the Americans asserted, but by the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda – Jubhat al-Nusra
Whichever was correct, what is relevant for now is that neither disputed that Al Nusra was able to get hold of substantial quantities of the deadly sarin nerve gas and the capacity to use it. Once in the hands of al-Nusra, the poison gas will certainly have been shared with its Iraqi partner, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Yet Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon justified ending the distribution of gas masks to Israeli civilians next month with the following comments:
“In recent years, Israel has gained offensive and defensive capabilities of exceptional quality and force which have deterred nations and organizations from attacking us – certainly with non-conventional weapons – in the knowledge of the heavy price they would be required to pay.”
Ya’alon went on to say: “The citizens of Israel can be absolutely certain that the security authorities and the Israel Defense Forces will continue to pursue action everywhere, whether near or far, for keeping them safe and for safeguarding the state of Israel. We shall perform [this duty] resolutely, responsibly and with due consideration.”
It must be said that last Thursday, Jan. 16, those “offensive and defensive capabilities of exceptional quality and force” did not deter the Palestinians from shooting a volley of seven heavy Grad missiles at the town of Ashkelon. A calamity was narrowly averted by an Iron Dome battery’s interception of the missiles when they were over the town. But like all defensive measures, Iron Dome is not foolproof.
How can the defense minister be sure that Al Qaeda in Syria and Iraq will be deterred from targeting Israel with chemical weapons, any more than were the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip?
5. Last month, for the first time in its 26 years of life and death as an organization dedicated to jihadist terrorism, al Qaeda through its Iraqi branch, the ISIS, laid out detailed plans for destroying Israel in a 33-page booklet under the title: “Proofs and Documentation in Support of the Proposition that the Destruction of the Jewish State Will Come from Iraq.”
The publication, penned by Abu al Khatab al Maqdasi” (the Jerusalemite), is lavishly illustrated with photos and maps. After overpowering Syria, he says, Al Qaeda’s mission is the destruction of Israel. Throughout history, he argues, Israel was conquered by armies coming from the North.
Therefore, the security cabinet’s assurance of “a significant decline in the threat of chemical weapons being fired at Israel" should be taken with a hefty grain of salt. The end of gas mask distribution is premature.