As Syria totters, Israel places Iron Domes in north

Netanyahu also summons home front defense minister for emergency talk about chemical weapons threat

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

The Iron Dome missile defense system in action, November 15, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
The Iron Dome missile defense system in action, November 15, 2012 (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

Israel deployed two Iron Dome batteries in the north on Sunday, at least one of them near Haifa, stationing the missile defense system in the north of the country for the first time amid growing fears that Syrian chemical weapons may be turned against Israel.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu summoned Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter for a special discussion regarding Syria’s chemical weapons and Israel’s preparedness.

The emergency meeting between Netanyahu and Dichter had to do with recent developments regarding the stockpile of weapons held by the Syrian regime, Ynet reported. Dichter is acting as interim defense minister while outgoing Defense Minister Ehud Barak heads home from the Davos Economic Forum.

Haifa was targeted by Hezbollah — a terror group and Iranian proxy based in Lebanon  — during the second Lebanon war in 2006. The city and its port are considered by many to have strategic importance.

Israel previously expressed concern about the possibility of chemical weapons being smuggled to Hezbollah or other terror groups.

Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday the transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah would cross “a red line,” that Israel couldn’t ignore.

Such a scenario “would be crossing a line that would demand a different approach, including even action,” Shalom told reporters. Asked whether this might mean a pre-emptive attack, he said: “We will have to make the decisions.”

The deployment of the anti-missile battery may signal a new peak in fears by Israeli officials that the country could come under attack from Syrian weapons.

Israeli officials also feared the possibility of Scud missiles or other advanced weapons reaching Hezbollah, Channel 2 reported.

In October, Israel deployed a Patriot anti-missile battery to the port city, two days after a drone airplane, reportedly launched by Hezbollah, penetrated Israel’s airspace.

Over the weekend, Turkey also activated a number of Patriot missile batteries supplied by NATO along its border with war-torn Syria.

Last week the defense establishment announced it had successfully tested an upgraded version of the homegrown Iron Dome platform, intercepting medium-range missiles.

Meant to protect strategic assets and heavy populated areas, the Iron Dome system proved effective during Operation Pillar of Defense, intercepting 84 percent of the rockets fired from the Gaza Strip at residential areas in Israel’s south and center.

Calling for a broad coalition to deal with the threats Israel has to face, earlier in the morning Netanyahu warned about possible deterioration in the north and a possible escalation from Syria.

“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 told ministers Sunday morning.

Syria is believed to have one of the world’s largest chemical weapons stockpiles, and some fear the arms may find their way into the hands of terrorists should the Assad regime fall.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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