Former IDF general Yoav Galant, Israel’s housing minister, said Monday that despite Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own civilians, there was little chance the leader of the war-torn country would deploy them in an attack against Israel.
“Assad has proved that he is an unrestrained man, a war criminal who will do anything,” Galant told Army Radio, referring to last week’s chemical attack on a rebel-held village that killed nearly 90 civilians.
“However, he is using this weapon against helpless people who pose no threat to him, so in this regard, Israel is safe in the hands of the IDF,” he said.
“I think we should be vigilant, but the risk is not something that’s realistic at this time.”
Last week, a chemical attack in the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed at least 87 civilians, including dozens of children.
Results from post-mortems performed on victims point to exposure to the deadly nerve agent sarin, according to Turkish health officials who treated some of the wounded.
Following the attack, a number of senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said they were “shocked and outraged” by the use of chemical weapons, but stopped short of calling for Israel to take any concrete measures.
Netanyahu has been outspoken in supporting US military action against the Syrian regime, following airstrikes on Thursday on the airfield from where the chemical attack was allegedly launched.
Israel has taken pains to stay out of the Syrian conflict, though it has reportedly carried out airstrikes against weapons transfers and has fired retaliatory missiles at Syrian army positions following stray fire into Israeli-held territory. Though other countries bordering Syria have taken in millions of refugees, Israel has kept its border shut and a plan to take in 100 Syrian orphan refugees reportedly fizzled out earlier this year.
Although it has not taken in any refugees, Israel says that since 2013, it has quietly treated 3,000 Syrian casualties who were spirited across the border into Israel by the IDF for medical treatment at special field hospitals or in Israeli medical centers.
On Sunday, the IDF released video footage from Thursday of army medics treating seven Syrians wounded in their country’s civil war who were allowed to cross the border into Israel for medical treatment.
While the numbers are a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded in the six-year Syrian war, both doctors and patients say the program has changed perceptions and helped ease tensions across the hostile border.
Israel and Syria remain officially in a state of war.
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