Israel unconvinced by Russian plan for Syrian chemical arms
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Israel unconvinced by Russian plan for Syrian chemical arms

‘Assad is winning time and lots of it,’ Liberman says; Peres calls Damascus ‘not trustworthy’

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Avigdor Liberman, in Jerusalem. Sunday, September 1, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Avigdor Liberman, in Jerusalem. Sunday, September 1, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Details of a deal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control are highly murky, Knesset foreign affairs chief Avigdor Liberman said Tuesday, warning that the plan could potentially serve the interests of the Assad regime.

Speaking to Israel Radio, the head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said Syrian President Bashar “Assad is winning time and lots of it,” as a result of the Russian plan. Comparing the situation to that of Iran’s nuclear program, he noted that the Syrian leader could use the initiative to “buy time” and stall any real international involvement, military or other.

Liberman, a former foreign minister, warned that Israel was determined not to be dragged into the conflict but would not shy away from retaliating if the country was attacked, no matter who the aggressor may be.

“Assad needs to understand that he and his associates will become legitimate targets if they try to drag Israel into the dispute,” he said.

Energy and Water Resources Minister Silvan Shalom also warned on Tuesday that a weak response to Assad’s alleged chemical attack may give a boost to Iran’s nuclear aspirations, even if the Syrian regime ultimately chooses to surrender its chemical weapons arsenal.

During a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, Shalom further asserted that it is clear to intelligence agencies worldwide that Assad’s forces had made use of unconventional weapons.

Shalom, however, went on to state, as others have, that Israel does not intend to get involved in the Syrian conflict.

On Monday, President Shimon Peres also cautioned against putting too much stock in the deal, saying “the Syrians are not trustworthy,” and that their acceptance of the Russian proposal meant very little.

Israel has mostly stayed quiet on the Syria crisis, though unnamed officials have indicated Jerusalem supports the US taking military action against Damascus.

Liberman also addressed ongoing concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, asserting that Israel must first and foremost rely on itself and be ready to deal with any threat. However, he expressed hope that the international community would be more determined in its efforts to halt Iran’s drive toward nuclear weapons.

Liberman was pessimistic about the outcome of current peace negotiations with Palestinians because, he said, conditions are not right to reach a comprehensive agreement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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