An Israeli strike on Syrian chemical weapons could draw Israel into a confrontation far wider than it might anticipate, IDF Chief of the General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee yesterday. Gantz said that the dilemma for Israel was identifying the correct moment to take action, if needed, to destroy the chemical weapons and prevent them from falling into the hands of Hezbollah.
Gantz told the Committee that “Assad has control over the [chemical weapon] stockpiles. They have increased their security around the chemical weapons and to our understanding they have not been moved into undesirable hands.”
Gantz also told the Committee that missiles and mortars carrying chemical warheads could still be used against Syrian citizens, despite the regime’s recent assurances to the contrary, and said, “certain parts of those weapon stockpiles could be moved to Hezbollah.”
Both Israel’s prime minister and defence minister have said in recent days that such a move would prompt an Israeli strike. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday called it a “casus belli.”
As concern mounts over Syria’s chemical arsenal, Maariv reports that there has been a 70 per cent spike in people collecting gas masks in Israel.
Meanwhile in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have launched massive counter assaults in both Aleppo and Damascus. Syrian forces fired artillery and rocket barrages early on Wednesday at the northern Damascus suburb of al-Tel in an attempt to seize the town from rebels, causing mass panic and forcing hundreds of families to flee the area, residents and opposition activists said.
In Aleppo, according to media reports, thousands of Syrian troops have withdrawn from the north-west Idlib province and are moving towards Aleppo which is reportedly being targeted by government fighter jets. The use of jets is seen as a significant escalation in the conflict as they have previously not been deployed.
Tuesday’s violence claimed the lives of more than 100 people in Syria, according to the opposition Local Co-ordination Committees, including 20 in Aleppo. The conflict in Syria, which began in March 2011, has now cost more than 19,000 lives, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.