Israel believes that the United States will respond militarily to Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons, according to unnamed military sources quoted by the Hebrew website Ynet on Saturday night.
When proof surfaces that the Assad regime used chemical weapons last Wednesday, “the US will act even in the event that the UN Security Council does not take a decision to that effect,” the report claimed, citing estimations by Israeli officials.
It said the Syria crisis was discussed by the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, in a phone conversation with his Israeli counterpart, Chief of the IDF General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, on Friday.
The assessment in Jerusalem is that “Washington is seriously considering a limited yet effective attack that will make it clear to the regime in Damascus that the international community will not tolerate the use of weapons of mass destruction against Syrian civilians or any other elements,” the report said.
Israel’s Channel 2 news said the likelihood was of a limited “punitive attack,” to deter the regime from further chemical weapons use.
Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi warned Saturday evening against outside military intervention, declaring in a TV interview that “a mass of flames will ignite the Middle East.” He also said, “The American pressure will not help, it is a waste of time, and Syria will not withdraw from its fight against terror.” An attack on Syria, he said, “will not be a picnic.”
Israel is said to be preparing for the possibility that, in response to an American attack, Syria might retaliate against targets in Israel. Syria is reported to have an arsenal of at least 100,000 missiles, some of which can target any areas in Israel.
President Barack Obama discussed options for responding to the Syria crisis with his security chiefs on Saturday, as the US moved a fourth missile warship to the eastern Mediterranean to be ready for any possible military intervention.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday that no decision on action had been taken, but some US reports said Hagel had been tasked by Obama with preparing attack options.
Dempsey is to travel to Jordan in the next few days, along with the head of the US central command, General Lloyd Austin, to coordinate a possible repsonse to the Syrian crisis with chiefs of staff from Turkey, Britain, France, Qatar, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Italy and Canada.
US reports have speculated that the US might use cruise missiles to take out Assad’s missile delivery systems, rather than directly targeting chemical weapons stockpiles because of the dangers of triggering chemical fallout. US TV reports Saturday said the administration was “leaning very heavily” toward an attack. Possible targets cited included the Syrian army units directly responsible for the use of chemical weapons, and symbols of the Assad regime.
Over the weekend, Israel’s Channel 2 reported that the Assad regime has concentrated its vast stocks of chemical weaponry in just two or three locations, the report said, under the control of Syrian Air Force Intelligence, itself reporting to the president.
The TV report said the chemical weapons allegedly used to kill hundreds of Syrian civilians — and possibly over 1,000 — last Wednesday were fired by the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army.
This division is under the command of the president’s brother, Maher Assad.
The nerve gas shells were fired from a military base in a mountain range to the west of Damascus, the Channel 2 news report said.
It said Israel was increasingly concerned about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and their possibility of these weapons falling into still more dangerous hands than those of Assad. Israel was “privately” making clear its concerns to the United States, the report said.
In his first response Thursday to the alleged attack, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Iran was closely watching how the world would deal with the attack.
“Syria has become Iran’s testing ground, and Iran is closely watching whether and how the world responds to the atrocities committed there by its client state Syria and its proxy Hezbollah against innocent civilians in Syria,” he said.