Israel said to fear Assad chemical weapons spillover into Golan Heights

In classified cable to envoys in 15 key countries, Foreign Ministry reportedly stresses Israel would respond to such a situation in ‘strongest possible terms’

Illustrative photo: This image, from a video posted on September 18, 2013, shows Syrians in protective suits and gas masks conducting a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical weapons attack, in Aleppo, Syria. (AP)
Illustrative photo: This image, from a video posted on September 18, 2013, shows Syrians in protective suits and gas masks conducting a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical weapons attack, in Aleppo, Syria. (AP)

The Foreign Ministry fears poison gas may leak into Israel if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons against rebels near the Golan Heights, and has reported warned of a punishing response should such a situation unfold.

The ministry sent a classified cable to 15 Israeli ambassadors around the world, providing the envoys with guidelines for sending strong messages against Iran, Syria and Hezbollah to their host countries, following last week’s infiltration of an Iranian drone and subsequent downing of an Israeli F-16, Channel 10 news reported Wednesday.

In acknowledging Jerusalem’s fear of chemical spillover into the Golan Heights, the cable directed the envoys to convey that “it must be made clear that such an incident would require Israel to respond in the strongest possible terms.”

The Foreign Ministry asked its ambassadors to emphasize to the senior political leaders in the countries where they are stationed that Iran’s entrenchment in Syria could increase the Islamic Republic’s desire to carry out additional attacks on Israel, which would lead to an escalation of hostilities in the entire region.

An unconscious Syrian child receives treatment at a hospital in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the northwestern Syrian Idlib province, following a suspected toxic gas attack on April 4, 2017. (AFP Photo/Omar Haj Kadour)

“We must convey the message that Israel will not allow this and will defend itself, its citizens, and its sovereignty,” the cable said, according to the report.

In July 2012, a similar concern reverberated across Israel that terror groups could gain control of Syria’s large stockpile of chemical weapons. Officials at the time said Assad could transfer the weapons to the Hezbollah terrorist group. The number of gas masks distributed to civilians subsequently saw an immediate and significant rise.

The Syrian government on Wednesday denied it possessed chemical weapons and branded the use of such arms “immoral and unacceptable.”

A joint investigation team comprising experts from the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concluded that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and used the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.

On February 1, Washington said Assad’s regime could be making new chemical weapons and warned it was considering fresh strikes against the regime.

Other messages that the Israeli envoys were asked to convey included calls on the international community to pressure Iran to halt its support of the Hezbollah terror group and to prevent the organization from purchasing and manufacturing precision missiles which could be used to target Israel, Channel 10 reported.

A senior Israeli official told Channel 10 that the ambassadors were asked to pass along the warnings in light of Jeruslem’s “sense” that the international community has not been taking Israel’s willingness to act against Iran’s entrenchment in Syria seriously.

A senior Syrian official on Tuesday warned Israel that it would face “surprises” if it launches any attacks on his country, claiming the Jewish state mistakenly thinks Syrian forces are incapable of defending the country.

Before dawn on Saturday, an Iranian drone was flown into Israeli airspace near the Jordanian border before it was shot down by an Israeli attack helicopter. Israel then conducted a series of airstrikes against positions in Syria, including the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle’s mobile command center, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman has since hinted that Israel would continue carrying out airstrikes where necessary, calling on Syria and Iran “to not be silly” or “provocative.”

During the reprisal raid, one of the eight Israeli F-16 fighter jets that took part in the operation was apparently hit by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and crashed. The Israeli Air Force then conducted a second round of airstrikes, destroying between a third and half of Syria’s air defenses, according to IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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