Pentagon reportedly seeking to avert Israeli strike on Syrian chemical weapon sites

International community fears Assad’s stockpile could fall into the hands of terrorists

Illustrative photo of a chemical weapons stockpile (photo credit: CC BY-jenspie3/Flickr)
Illustrative photo of a chemical weapons stockpile (photo credit: CC BY-jenspie3/Flickr)

Defense officials are in talks with the Pentagon, which wants to prevent a possible Israeli strike on Syria’s chemical weapons facilities, The New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Syria, one of only seven nations not a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, is widely believed to have large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, as well as an active manufacturing capacity.

Israeli officials have expressed fears that the stockpiles of nonconventional weapons may fall into terrorists’ hands in the chaos following a possible fall of President Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus. They also fear Assad may use the weapons in a last-ditch effort to prevail against the rebel uprising, or transfer them to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

According to the New York Times report, the US opposes a move by Israel to disable Syrian’s chemical weapons, fearing that an Israeli strike in Syrian territory would enable Assad to rally support against outside interference.

On Wednesday, King Abdullah II of Jordan warned that there was a real danger that as the Syrian civil war continued, chemical weapon stockpiles could end up in the hands of al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

Also on Wednesday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that Syria had been providing rockets to the Islamic movement since 2006, and promised a “new surprise” in the event of further Israeli incursions into south Lebanon.

Last week, IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh warned that “Syria’s chemical arsenal is the world’s largest, and it possesses missiles that can target the entirety of Israel’s territory.” He stressed that the IDF must not let such weapons fall into the hands of Israel’s enemies.

Thomas E. Donilon, US President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, was in Israel last week for high-level talks on the Syrian crisis. The possibility that Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal could become “up for grabs” is said to be a central concern of the US government, as is the possibility that the Syrian government could use such weapons against the rebel forces as a last resort.

If the latter happens, Assad will have crossed a red line and the whole nature of the international discussion on the issue will be changed, former US ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told The New York Times.

“There would be strong, if not overwhelming sentiment, internationally, to stop him,” Indyk said, adding that Syrian ally Russian would “probably” have to drop its opposition to UN sanctions against Syria, and Iran would have to alter its relationship with the embattled Syrian regime as well.

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