The situation in Syria can’t be allowed to continue, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, while President Shimon Peres said the price of letting Damascus hold onto chemical weapons was greater than that of an operation to remove them. Other top ministers urged action as well.
The statements came as Washington and other Western countries are weighing how to respond to reports that the regime in Damascus fired chemical warheads last week, killing hundreds.
Netanyahu added that Israel “will always know how to protect our citizens” should Syrian weapons be turned on the Jewish state.
“Our hand is always on the pulse,” said. “Our finger is a responsible one and if needed, is on the trigger. We will always know how to protect our citizens and our country against those who come to injure us or try to attack us.”
Speaking ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that reports of the mass chemical weapons attack outside Damascus point to “a terrible tragedy and a terrible crime. Our hearts go out to the women, children, babies and civilians injured so cruelly by the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
Israel, like the rest of the world, has refrained from responding to the Syrian civil war in any large-scale way, taking in only a small number of injured Syrians and reportedly carrying out covert air strikes at regime weapons sites. Yet officials have said action must be taken, with most expecting Washington to respond to the attack.
On Sunday Peres called for a concentrated international effort to “take out” Syrian’s chemical weapons.
The “moral call is superior to any strategic considerations,” the president said, so therefore “the time has come for a joint effort to remove all the chemical weapons from Syria. They cannot remain there either in the hands of Assad or of others.”
The prime minister, counting off Israel’s takeaways from the attack, hinted that what happened in Syria could be signal to Israel for how to deal with other conflicts.
“One, the situation can’t continue. Two, the most dangerous regimes in the world can’t possess the most dangerous weapons in the world. Three, of course we expect the situation to stop, but we remember the ancient principle of the sages, ‘If we are not for ourselves, who is for us?’”
Netanyahu was to meet later in the day with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, with Syria expected to be on the agenda for discussion.
Peres, after meeting with Fabius in Jerusalem, called Syrian President Bashar Assad “a ruler who kills his people with the most terrible means and without any consideration… we cannot remain indifferent.”
Although removing chemical weapons would be “very complicated” and “very expensive,” Peres said, “it is more dangerous and more expensive to leave [them] there. It must be done.”
Earlier in the day, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz told Army Radio the attack requires a response. He said the chances that Syria would attack Israel as a result of US action were slim but that the army should be prepared for such an eventuality.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio that a US response to the alleged poison gas attack would help discourage future chemical weapons use, but also have security implications for Israel.
Neither Netanyahu nor the ministers specified what type of response they were urging.
The Associated Press contributed to this report