Israel’s security chiefs rally to disperse war clouds with Syria
Amos Gilead, head of the Defense Ministry Political and Security Division, went first with a long radio interview on Tuesday, July 24, followed by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz – both administering their own brands of tranquilizer. Gilead said that the Assad regime was in full control of Syria’s unconventional weapons and so, while Israel’s intelligence bodies must be extra alert and prepare for all eventualities in Syria, there is no need to panic.
Gen. Gantz offered the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee this abstruse thought: “If you work from one focus, you may find it hard to find the point, but if you act broadly, you may quickly find yourself in an area that is broader than you planned.”
Since the topic he was addressing was Syria’s chemical and biological arsenal, he probably meant to say something like this: If the IDF only targets Syria’s unconventional arsenal, its aim might not hit home. But by missing its aim, the Israeli military may find itself dragged very quickly into a comprehensive war with Syria – and perhaps Hizballah and Iran, to boot.
The chief of staff, like the defense ministry official, therefore broke ranks with the muscle-flexing President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, by urging a large measure of restraint against Syria’s admitted possession of chemical weapons.
The two Israeli security chiefs answered the Syrian Foreign Ministry’s warning Monday – that Damascus would only use chemical weapons if faced with “external aggression” – by making it clear that Israel is not planning to attack Syria. Therefore, Bashar Assad has no cause to target Israel for any unconventional warfare attacks he may plan.
Amos Gilead dismissed as “not credible” the rebel Free Syrian Army’s Tuesday statement that the Damascus government has moved chemical weapons to airports on its borders, along with equipment for mixing chemical components. He also said emphatically: “Hizballah does not have Syrian chemical weapons at this time,” thereby laying the ground for Gen. Gantz’s assurance.
Both sought to cut through the war clouds gathering between Israel and Syria since July 20, when US Pentagon sources first disclosed that Syria’s chemical weapons had been moved out of storage.
debkafile’s military sources strongly doubt that Gilead and Gantz will achieve their purpose – either in Damascus or at home. They have only generated the troubling impression of an Israeli leadership divided against itself by broadcasting mixed signals on the highly incendiary issue of the largest chemical arsenal in the world in the hands of one of its most ruthless despots.
Bashar Assad didn't need their assurances. He wasn’t worried about Israel suddenly deciding to intervene in the Syrian civil war after refraining from doing so for 17 months. At this point, he is deep in plotting tactics for emerging victorious from the full-scale revolt against his regime.
Advice relevant to his current preoccupation was offered Monday by the hard-line Iranian publication Kayhan: Since the conflict in Syria has morphed from the security (suppressing unrest) plane to the military (warfare between the military and rebels) track, said the Kayhan editorial, Assad is left with no option but to embark on war – limited or broad – to liberate occupied territory (the Golan) – i.e. against Israel.
Since Kayhan often represents the views of the ruling elite in Tehran and the Revolutionary Guards, its editorial comments will be taken seriously.
And this is what the Israeli chief of staff was talking about when he warned that a “broad” operation might degenerate into a wider plan than planned, while intimating that Israel has no wish to be entangled in war against either Syria or Iran.
Rather than inspiring confidence and calm in the Israeli street, Gilead and Gantz sowed confusion and alarm -most of all by their assurance that Assad is in “full control” of his unconventional weapons arsenal and it has not yet passed into “negative hands.”.
If that is so desirable, why did US President Barack Obama issue a grave warning to the Syrian ruler Monday that he would be held accountable by the world and the United States “if he makes the tragic mistake of using chemical weapons?”
He was not the only world leader to voice extreme concern. His control of those poisonous weapons is like putting the cat in charge of the cream.
And if Israel has turned to a policy of tolerance for the mass murderer in Damascus and his control of chemical weapons, why did Defense Minister Barak order the Israeli military to prepare for a possible attack on that weapons arsenal?
By flatly contradicting the statements of Israel’s prime minister and defense minister, the two security chiefs caused extreme damage to Israel’s credibility without serving any beneficial purpose. How will this be taken in Damascus and Tehran?