Senior foreign ministry officials accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of inflating the dangers of ongoing battles in Syria to serve his political goal of forming a broad coalition.
According to the officials, quoted Tuesday by Maariv, there have been no substantial developments in fighting in Israel’s restive neighbor to the north in recent weeks and the flurry of comments and activity relating to that front in the Prime Minister’s Office is self-serving.
“The situation in Syria, particularly regarding the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles, has not changed in the past two weeks,” one official told Maariv. “There is a status quo between President Bashar Assad’s forces and the opposition rebels.”
A second official said that no Israeli “red lines” have been crossed in regards to Syria’s chemical weapons or the Syrian military’s ability to keep them out of terrorist’s hands.
Israel has also reportedly said it fears that advanced anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry, supplied by Russia to Syria, could be acquired by Hezbollah, reducing Israel’s air and armor superiority against the Shiite terrorist organization based in south Lebanon.
But the officials blamed the Prime Minister’s Office for leaking inaccurate information from a secret meeting on Syria that was held on Wednesday, which created the impression that Israel fears that Assad’s chemical stockpiles will fall into the hands of Jihadist terrorists fighting alongside the opposition forces.
“The media served Netanyahu’s hidden agenda,” said one of the officials. “It was unnecessary for these reports to leak, as if by chance, and create the impression that the prime minister summoned Defense Minister Ehud Barak to rush back from a trip to Europe.”
“We must look around us, at what is happening in Iran and its proxies and at what is happening in other areas, with the deadly weapons in Syria, which is increasingly coming apart,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly Sunday cabinet meeting. “The Middle East is not waiting on the results of the elections and it will not stop during the formation of the government…. To this end, I would like to form the broadest and most stable government as possible in order – first of all – to meet the significant security threats that face the State of Israel, and I am convinced of our ability to deal with these threats.”
On Monday, Netanyahu dispatched National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror to Moscow for a brief visit aimed at convincing the Kremlin to take steps to prevent Syria’s stockpiles from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.
On Sunday, Israel deployed two Iron Dome batteries in the north, at least one of them near Haifa, reportedly amid what were said to be growing fears that Syrian chemical weapons may be turned against the Jewish state.
Also Sunday, Netanyahu summoned Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter for a special discussion regarding Syria’s chemical weapons and Israel’s preparedness.
“Something is happening for sure,” said Channel 2 security analyst Ehud Yaari, speaking to The New York Times on Sunday. “Even in Israel, which is usually tense, and the normal nervousness that you have in this country, this is exceptional now.”
Yaari also said that there was heavy fighting between regime forces and rebels near chemical weapons facilities outside of Damascus and Aleppo.
Netanyahu has begun holding informal coalition talks with fellow party heads following last Tuesday’s elections. Negotiations are expected to start in earnest on later this week after President Shimon Peres receives the official election results and begins talks with party heads to determine who to task with forming the coalition.
The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on Maariv’s report.