Assad retains control of Syria chemical arms: Israel (REUTERS) By Dan Williams JERSALEM, ISRAEL 06/12/12 11:46am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Israel believes there is no immediate risk of Syria´s
chemical weapons falling into the hands of militants, a senior
minister said on Tuesday, despite its growing worries about fighting
there which has prompted Israeli calls for outside military
"At this stage, the Syrian regime has firm control over the chemical
weapons arsenal, but there are al Qaeda elements in Syria and
therefore we are maintaining close scrutiny," Vice Prime Minister
Moshe Yaalon, a former armed forces chief, said.
Israel, initially cautious about any change of government in Syria -
a neighbor with which it has had a manageable standoff until now -
has come out recently with increasingly strong calls for an end to
the rule of President Bashar al-Assad.
This week it accused Assad of committing sectarian "genocide" and
urged foreign military intervention to topple him.
Its main worry is that Assad could transfer Syria´s chemical weapons -
which Western powers believe is the world´s largest stockpile - to
its ally, the Iranian-backed Lebanese political and military
organization Hezbollah, in any desperate bid to retain power by
spreading Syria´s military arsenal.
The possibility of them falling into the hands of foreign fighters
affiliated to al Qaeda is a secondary concern, though Amos Yadlin,
former head of Israeli military intelligence, played down the
prospect of them being able to use them.
"These are very complicated systems that terrorist groups would find
it hard to contend with," he said. "They would be more likely to hurt
themselves with such materials, than others."
The comments from Yaalon saying he believed Assad had firm control of
the chemical weapons, therefore, had all the more resonance coming
from a country which has strong reasons to ring alarm bells if it
believes these are at risk.
His remarks, made in a speech, followed media speculation that Israel
could mount a preemptive strike to prevent chemical arms falling to
Syrian rebels or being transferred to Hezbollah.
The deputy commander of Israel´s armed forces, Major-General Yair
Naveh, said Syria´s missiles could deliver chemical warheads anywhere
in the Jewish state.
"We thought we had already distanced ourselves from the subject of
existential war," Naveh said at a briefing, a video clip of which was
circulated to the media. "To our regret, we are slowly returning anew
to this reality."
Defence Minister Ehud Barak said separately Israel worried
that "advanced or non-conventional weaponry" could reach
Hezbollah "the moment the (Assad) regime falls."
Syria is one of just eight states - along with Israel and nearby
Egypt - that have not joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention,
which means the world´s chemical weapons watchdog has no jurisdiction
to intervene there. The Assad government has in the past denied
having weapons of mass destruction.
Israel struck preemptively at the suspected nuclear weapons projects
of Syria in 2007 and of Iraq in 1981, and has threatened to take
similar action against Iran.
But Israel has not pursued such a strategy against enemy chemical
programs. Many experts believe that Israel regarded its military
supremacy - reputed to include the region´s only nuclear arsenal - as
enough to ward off any chemical attack.
An Israeli military officer briefed on contingency planning said
there had been no unusual preparations for any action on Syria.
(Editing by Myra MacDonald) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 06/12/12)
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