Israeli and foreign intelligence agencies have hard and definitive evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad has used chemical weapons against rebel forces, a senior Israeli official said Monday amid rampant speculation about the West’s next move.
“We’re not talking about intelligence assessments concerning the use of chemical weapons, but rather proof and perhaps more than proof,” the official said.
The senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, added that international intelligence agencies possessed hard evidence of the charges against Assad and that Israel’s information to this effect was shared with “all the intelligence agencies.”
US officials last week declared that the Syrian government probably used chemical weapons twice in March — newly provocative acts in the two-year-long civil war that has killed more than 70,000 people and displaced hundreds of thousands more. The US assessment followed similar conclusions from Britain, France, Israel and Qatar, some of which are eager for a more aggressive response to the Syrian conflict.
“Not one of them has doubt or uncertainty in the matter,” the official said.
He reiterated Israel’s primary concern about the transfer of chemical weapons from the Assad regime to Hezbollah or Lebanon, and said that if Hezbollah or any of the rebel groups operating in Syria acquired chemical weapons, it would have grave ramifications for Israel.
Israel’s security cabinet convened Sunday night to discuss the increasing chaos in Syria, and reportedly disagreed over whether inaction would be more dangerous than urging America to act against Syria.
Opposition MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) told Israel Radio Monday that he too “has no doubt” Assad has already used chemical weapons.
What’s more, he said, some of those chemical weapons are “definitely reaching” Hezbollah.
“I have no doubt that these weapons are trickling to Hezbollah,” the former defense minister said, but did not supply any evidence for his claim.
Ben-Eliezer said he was “amazed by the silence of the world” and that the international community needs to intervene to end the high civilian death toll in Syria’s civil war. He said Israel should consider action if there is no international intervention.
“I wouldn’t rule out preparing a plan for Israel to act if the world continues to remain silent and the weapons continue to flow to Hezbollah. These are crazy people, terrorists who will not hesitate to use this tomorrow morning,” he said.
US President Barack Obama said Friday that if Syria was in fact using chemical weapons against rebel forces, a claim that Israel has made but Syrian officials have denied, that would change the “calculus” of US involvement in the conflict — but said too little was known about a pair of likely Sarin attacks to justify aggressive action now.
Obama spoke three days after Itai Brun, the IDF’s top intelligence analyst, speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv, detailed specific Syrian use of Sarin in an attack on March 19, and said there had been other instances of Assad’s forces using chemical weapons. The assertion was initially disputed by the US, and subsequently accepted.
American lawmakers urged the president on Sunday to take decisive action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons.
“The president has laid down the line, and it can’t be a dotted line. It can’t be anything other than a red line,” said House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican. “And more than just Syria, Iran is paying attention to this. North Korea is paying attention to this.”
Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz (Hatnua) called for US military intervention in the ongoing civil war.
Peretz said action should have been taken long ago, due to the high civilian death toll. “We expect that whoever defines red lines will also do what is needed, first and foremost the US and, of course, the entire international community,” he said.
Yoav Galant, a prominent former general, expressed concern that such intervention would hasten the fall of Assad and usher in extremist elements.
“In the short term, the fall of Assad weakens the radical axis. But in the long term, we’ll be facing the extremist organizations that have entered Syria and are establishing themselves therein,” Galant told students on Sunday.
“Things will get worse,” he cautioned.
AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.