Israel fully prepared to prevent Syrian chemical attack, IAF commander says

Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel says Hezbollah planning more drone infiltrations, future conflicts will have ‘significant impact’ on the homefront

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
IAF Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Israel’s air force commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel said the IAF is fully prepared to prevent a chemical weapons attack from Syria, if necessary, by destroying the massive stockpiles in Syria’s possession.

“We are required to be prepared for all threats and possible scenarios, unconventional weapons too.” Eshel said Wednesday at an end-of-year briefing. “This is an issue for the countries’ decision makers. We possess the relevant capabilities and if it is decided to apply them, we will know how to carry out the orders.”

Eshel said that the IDF has been following the situation in Syria closely, specifically watching for non-conventional weapons being smuggled out of the country, and would be prepared to carry out strikes if it learned that some of them had fallen into the hands of Hezbollah.

“Syria’s disintegration is readily apparent and it is taking place very close to us, in Israel’s back yard,” Eshel said. “It is in possession of advanced weapons systems of all types and the big question, which I don’t have the answer to, is what will happen after the regime falls.”

Israeli leaders have said Israel would intervene militarily if Syria’s chemical weapons stocks were seen to be falling into unstable hands. In recent days, US intelligence officials quoted in the US media have claimed that President Bashar Assad may be readying chemical weaponry for use against rebels as his position in the two-year civil war worsens, but Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel did not see an immediate threat to Israeli security.

Eshel predicted that Hezbollah would increase its attempts to infiltrate Israeli air space with airborne drones carrying explosives. Ever since the IAF’s interception of a Hezbollah drone two and a half months ago, the new threat has received major attention by the military, he noted.

Eshel warned that any future conflict with Hezbollah would have a significant impact on the Israeli homefront. “Rockets may fall in central Israel,” he said. “The main [Israeli] effort will be to achieve victory, and quickly.”

The air force commander also commented on the recent explosion in a weapon storage facility in southern Lebanon. “Someone who goes to bed with rockets should realize that is a very unsafe place to be in,” he mused.

A Kuwaiti newspaper claimed Wednesday that the explosion — near the border on Monday — was the result of a planned attack and that the facility housed Syrian-made missiles with biological and chemical warheads. Though the report didn’t finger Israel for carrying out the strike, it said the IAF had carried out attacks on weapons caches in the past.

Most reports have indicated that the blast was likely at a Hezbollah weapons depot.

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