Israel’s military intelligence chief on Thursday said Syria’s embattled president, Bashar Assad, is preparing to use chemical weapons.
Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi told a security conference in the coastal town of Herzliya that Assad is stepping up his offensive against rebels trying to oust him.
He claimed Assad is making advanced preparations to use chemical weapons, but has not yet given the order to deploy them. He did not disclose information about why he thinks Assad is preparing to use them.
Kochavi spoke for the better part of an hour, detailing the effects on Israel of the transformation of the Middle East in recent years.
Kochavi said that across the region, a lack of water, a rising demand for energy and an increasing difficulty in providing food for civilians, coupled with rising religious extremism and the overthrow of the long-enduring dictatorships, have thrown the region into profound tumult, creating “a completely different Middle East.”
The four primary Muslim powers in the region — Turkey, Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia — are all governed by religious rule, and Israel, “for the first time in decades,” faces strife on four of its borders — Syria, Lebanon, Sinai and Gaza.
Increasingly, continued Kochavi, the Islamist groups on Israel’s borders were veering away from global jihad and toward “local jihad.”
In Syria, the air force is flying 40-50 sorties per day against civilians. The price of bread has gone up sevenfold over the past year. Oil production is down 40 percent. The army is able to draft only 20 percent of each recruited class. Some 45,000 troops have defected. Morale is low, the structure of command is weak, the troops are scattered. Finally, 11 of 17 border crossings are currently in rebel hands.
“Syria as a whole state no longer exists,” Kochavi claimed.
Israel has long expressed concerns that Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons could end up in the hands of groups hostile to Israel like Hezbollah or al-Qaeda-inspired organizations.
Israel has kept out of Syria’s civil war, but it is concerned that violence could spill over the border into northern Israel.