Netanyahu visited Jordan with plans to destroy Syrian chemical weapons

Senior officials confirm visit; Israel’s neighbor said to oppose air strike or ground assault

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman in 2010 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with Jordanian King Abdullah II in Amman in 2010 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently held top-secret talks in Jordan regarding possible methods for destroying Syria’s sizable chemical weapons stockpiles, including air strikes or a ground assault, but so far Amman is reluctant to put its weight behind such action.

Unnamed senior Israeli officials confirmed the visit late Wednesday, but would not give any other details, according to Israel Radio.

The visit was first reported by the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.

Citing an anonymous source, the paper said that Israel suggested precision strikes on President Bashar Assad’s chemical arsenals, but that the idea was nixed due to the potentially large number of Syrian civilian casualties, as well as the threat to the environment.

The other option, a ground incursion aimed at taking control of the stockpiles and neutralizing them, was reportedly shot down by Jordan due to the large number of casualties that such action would likely entail, the high financial cost, and the detrimental impact on the local and regional balance of power.

Jerusalem and Amman are in constant contact over the situation in Syria while Egypt and Saudi Arabia are unwilling to deal with Israel, the report said. No details were provided, however, as to when Netanyahu visited Jordan. The Israeli Prime Minister’s Office did not confirm the report.

Abdullah, at their meeting, also reportedly complained to Netanyahu over his failure to engage with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in substantive negotiations; Netanyahu has blamed Abbas’s preconditions for the failure to resume peace talks.

Arab powers were reluctant to include Israel in discussions aimed at reaching a resolution to the bloody conflict in Syria, because they see the Jewish state as a hindrance, the report said. However, according to the paper, the situation could change if Israel, the United States, and Jordan believe that a desperate Assad will unleash chemical weapons on rebel forces in order to save his regime.

In early December, Jeffrey Goldberg reported in The Atlantic that Israel in the preceding two months had twice requested “permission” from Jordan to bomb Syria, but was denied the go-ahead. Mossad officials who traveled to Jordan to discuss the matter were told that Amman felt “the time was not right,” Goldberg reported.

According to that report, Israel wants Jordanian approval for a strike on Syria because some of the regime’s chemical weapons are stored near the border with Jordan, and both Jerusalem and Amman are concerned about the repercussions of interfering with the delicate situation on the ground.

Damascus would presumably assume “Jordanian complicity” in any military action by Israel, Goldberg quoted an intelligence official as saying, and Amman does not want to provoke its potentially reckless neighbor to the north.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said Israel was carefully monitoring Syria’s chemical weapons.

“We’re taking steps in order to prepare for the far-reaching changes that are commencing there,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, alluding to recent assessments that Assad’s days in power were numbered.

“There are dramatic developments in Syria on an almost daily basis,” he said. “We’re working in cooperation with the United States, and, together with the international community, we’re taking the necessary steps to prepare ourselves for the possibility of changes with a bearing on the sensitive weapons systems in Assad’s hands.”

Amos Gilad, a senior official in Israel’s Defense Ministry, said that, “for the time being,” Syria’s chemical weapons were “under control,” despite the fact that Assad has been losing ground to the rebels.

Last month, NBC reported that Washington was “huddling” with its allies, including Israel, over how to grapple with the danger, according to CNN. US intelligence, Israeli intelligence and other agencies were “working this problem round the clock,” it said, adding that concern in the region “is growing by the hour.”

The Times of London reported that the US, along with several key allies, is prepared to launch a military intervention in Syria should the Assad government resort to using its chemical weapons against the rebels.

A military source told the Times that US forces could be ready “rapidly, within days,” and implied that the necessary forces were already in the region.

Israel is particularly concerned that Syrian chemical and biological weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists and be used against Israel.

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