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Israel, Turkey & Syria's Chemical Weapons

IDF Chief Of Staff Gantz: 'Bashar Assad Is Capable Of Using Chemical Weapons Against His Own People'

U.S. Ambassador Dan Shapiro: 'U.S. & Israel Are Coordinated On How To Deal With Syria's Chemical Weapons After Fall Of Assad Regime'

IsraCast Assessment: Turkey Must Also Be Worried About Kurdish PKK Fighters Getting Hands On Syria's Chemical Weapons. Speaking Privately Senior Israeli Officials Have T old IsraCast : 'THE DETERIORATING SITUATION STRESSES THE NEED FOR ISRAEL & TURKEY TO RESOLVE PRESENT DIFFERENCES AND RENEW PAST FRIENDSHIP'

The menace of President Bashar Assad's arsenal of chemical weapons overshadows the current chaos in Syria. In a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz addressed the volatile situation that has pitted the Syrian Army and the rebels exchanging fire near the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. Analyst David Essing says there are differing accounts on whether the Chief of Staff warned that an Israeli strike against Syria's chemical weapons could start a regional flareup.

Assad can use chemical weapons ...

Is it possible the Assad regime may use chemical weapons against its own people? IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Benny Gantz has said: 'Yes' there is such a possibility'. Less than twenty-four hours earlier, the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman had declared : 'Syria will never use chemical weapons against the Syrian people, only against foreign aggressors.' To the best of the IDF commander's knowledge, Syria's chemical weapons arsenal is still under Assad's control. In fact, the Syrian army has reinforced its guard around the chemical weapons to prevent them being seized by the rebel forces. But while Gen. Gantz was certain the chemical weapons had not fallen into 'negative hands, this did not mean it could not happen'. The IDF was also monitoring to detect if Syria might transfer chemical weapons components to Hezbollah. On this score, both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have warned that Israel would likely intervene in such circumstances.

Israel & US Coordination...

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson)

There is good reason why Israel is very concerned about the patently barbaric regime losing control of its chemical weapons. President Assad is aware that any attempt to launch a chemical attack on Israel would spark a swift and massive Israel retaliation that would spell the end of his regime. However if the regime falls, as is expected, who will take control of the chemical weapons arsenal. Not only Hezbollah and Iranian fighters are participating in the civil war, IDF intelligence has disclosed that al Qaeda and Islamic Jihad forces are fighting on the side of the rebels. There is no united leadership of 'Syria's Free Army' that is comprised of various groups that do not have the same goals or ideology. Therefore it is very difficult, if not impossible, to foresee what will transpire immediately after the Assad regime is toppled. Syria might break-up into a second 'Iraq' with Alewite, Shiite, Sunni, Druze etc. cantons, but what will happen to the chemical weapons in this pandemonium? In his recent interview with Fox News, Netanyahu warned: 'Chemical weapons in Hezbollah's hands would be like chemical weapons in Al Qaeda's hands!' In other words, not only Israel but also the U.S. would face a grave chemical weapons threat. When Netanyahu was asked if Israel would act to seize the chemical weapons, he was noncommital saying: 'There are other options'. Could that mean U.S. involvement?  

In an interview with IBA TV Dan Shapiro, America's Ambassador to Israel, disclosed that America and Israel are coordinated on what to do about Syria's chemical weapons arsenal in the event of Assad's departure. Naturally Shapiro did not reveal any details. But this of course leads to different possibilities. (As for the Syrian opposition reports that Assad has transported chemical weapons to airports and border areas for possible shipping to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli experts view as rebel spin to whip up more international pressure on Assad).

Turkey & Israel Rapprochment?

Turkey, Syria's northern neighbor, which is playing a commendable role in caring for Syrian refugees, must also be concerned about those chemical weapons. What if they were to fall into the hands of the Kurdish PKK organization that is embroiled in a low intensity war with Turkey? Some Israeli officials have said privately: 'The deteriorating situation in Syria stresses the need for the region's two democracies to resolve their present differences and renew their past friendship. This is not only in the vital interest of both Ankara and Jerusalem but this rapprochment would also enhance regional stability'.

And another private note - in a recent interview with a Turkish TV network I asked the question: 'How is Turkey not deeply concerned that a radical state like Iran, Assad's main ally in brutally suppressing his own people, may acquire nuclear weapons?'

Syrian Fighting Near Golan Heights...

Meanwhile, the fighting between Assad's army and the rebel forces is moving closer to the Israeli border on the Golan Heights. IDF troops on the other side can actually watch the ongoing battle. In fact, three mortar bombs landed some four-hundred yards from Israel's border fence. But the Israelis were not the target - the IDF believes Syrian troops were shooting at the opposition forces and not into Israeli territory.

What was clear is that Bashar Assad is losing control of the country primarily in eastern Syria. The cracks have also been widening in the Syrian army; so far an estimated 17,000 soldiers including some senior officers have deserted. The dispatch of Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon to bolster the Syrian regime had also caused greater tensions in Lebanon itself.

Good Egyptian Army Liason...

Overall, the majority of IDF alerts have been coming from Egyptian controlled Sinai which Gen. Gantz described as 'an island of instability', now that the Moslem Brotherhood was on the ascendant in Cairo. Last week, terrorists from inside Sinai opened fire at an Israeli bus travelling on the border road without causing casualties. The terrorists, be they Palestinians or Bedouin tribesmen who make a living by smuggling from Egypt into Israel, were trying to sabotage the security fence that Israel is rapidly constructing along the border. On the other hand, military liason was being maintained with the Egyptian Army from the top brass down to the soldiers in the border area.

As for the Gaza sector, the situation was relatively quiet, but probably not for too long. Gen. Gantz had no doubt that fresh terror activity would again be mounted from Gaza and ' the moment will come when we'll have to act.'

(Shortly after the general's briefing, Palestinians in Gaza fired two GRAD rockets at the Israeli city of Ashkelon. One was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system while the other was allowed to explode harmlessly in an open area.)

While the bloody power struggle rages in Syria, Gen. Gantz presented his regional outlook. He said the probability of an initiated, conventional war was actually lowered. But then he cautioned: 'There are currently events and instability in the region that could spark uncontrolled developments that no one wants or wishes to initiate'. Had Gen. Gantz intended to say an Israeli raid on Syria's chemical weapons could spark a regional war? An authoritative source at the briefing later said that the Chief of Staff issued no such warning.

Burgas retaliation on the way...

Burgas bus bombing... Israeli security forces had foiled more than ten terror attacks but Hezbollah, with Iran's backing, had succeeded in the Bulgarian bus bombing that murdered five Israeli tourists and one Bulgarian. Israel would take a hard and cool look at what had happened at Burgas airport and find the right way to react. And the Chief of Staff concluded: 'At the end of the day, our reaction will arrive!' 

Iran? To the best of my knowledge, either Iran was not on the Chief of Staff's agenda or no details were disclosed. Clearly, Gen. Gantz now faced with a chemical weapons threat from Syria and an Iranian break-out for nuclear weapons, is probably the busiest military commanders in the world.

David Essing

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