Israel: Syria Government Still in Control of Chemical Weapons

The Syrian government is still in full control of its chemical weapons stockpiles, a senior Israeli defense official said on Tuesday.

Israel’s foreign minister warned separately that the Jewish state would act decisively if Syria handed over any chemical or biological weapons to its Hezbollah enemies.

“The worry, of course, is that the regime will destabilize and the control will also destabilize,” the defense official, Amos Gilad, told Israel Radio.

But he added: “At the moment, the entire non-conventional weapons system is under the full control of the regime.”

Western countries and Israel have voiced fears that chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militant groups as the authority of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad erodes.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has said Israel would consider military action to ensure those weapons did not reach Assad’s Hezbollah guerrilla allies in Lebanon. Israel says Hezbollah has some 70,000 rockets in its arsenal.

But Israel appeared to harden its line on non-conventional weapons reaching Hezbollah when Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said at a news conference in Brussels on Tuesday that decisive action would have be taken against such a move.

“The moment we see Syrians transfer chemical and biological weapons to Hezbollah this is a red line for us. And from our point of view it is a clear casus belli. We will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint,” Lieberman said.

On Monday, Syria acknowledged for the first time that it has chemical and biological weapons and said it could use them if foreign nations intervened in the 16-month-old uprising against Assad’s rule.

Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Angus MacSwan

Opinion: Syrians need us

It’s time for us to act for Syria.

It’s been one year since the start of the Syrian revolution, and the organized Jewish community is still sitting on its collective thumbs, acting as if the turmoil is not its issue, and in any case, we can do nothing.

It is, and we can.

The criminal enterprise called the Bashar al-Assad regime has murdered more than 10,000 civilians since the Arab Spring crossed
the border into Syria. Assad, the London-trained ophthalmologist whom the West, and his own countrymen, once looked upon as the future of a new, free Syria, has proved himself the myopic heir to his father’s evil. He has the same story arc as Michael Corleone, with none of the charisma. 

Assad’s fixation on retaining power at all costs has offered the people of Syria no choice but to resist. His own choices are narrowing to whether he wants to die at the hands of a mob, à la Muammar Gadhafi, or in custody, à la Hosni Mubarak. Whichever way he goes, his actions now guarantee that there will be not a single tear left in Syria to shed for him. Watch the images of 13-year-old boys tortured by Assad’s forces, of Syrian neighborhoods flattened by his artillery, of Syrian women raped by his soldiers: Assad will go down as one of the great cowards and child-murderers of our time. His father, at least, would be proud.  

I understand there are ample differences between Syria and the other countries caught up in the Arab Spring. Syria’s army is even more in the regime’s camp. The opposition is even more dysfunctional and divided. Iran’s influence is greater. The Russians, whose legacy of support for Syria goes back to the Cold War, are even more invested in the status quo. As one Syrian expert told me, “Libya implodes; Syria explodes.” There is no reason to be Pollyannaish about the future: Assad has dug in, there is no good military option, and the best hope is to continue to use sanctions and financial pressures on the regime’s kleptocrats in the hopes of prying their grip off the nation’s throat.

But the stakes for the things American Jews care about are in some ways even higher. Here is a country smack on Israel’s northern border, which shares precious water resources with Israel. A country that has fought several wars against Israel, and played a key role in instigating one of them — the Six-Day War. A country that is ideologically and militarily tied to Iran, which has supported it with armaments and populated it with Hezbollah and Hamas. A country that has meddled in Lebanon, to Israel’s — and Lebanon’s — detriment.

A government in Syria that cared more about its own people and less about demonizing, blaming and attacking Israel would be a very good thing.

But no less important, the ideals that motivate the naked revolution are dear. Freedom from oppression. Hope for a better future. The development of the human potential of the Syrian people. 

Syria might seem small compared to what’s happening in Egypt and Iran. But people who know far better than I consider the revolution a breakthrough for the region. That’s why Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, told a group in Los Angeles earlier this month that Israel’s real focus now should be Syria and Lebanon:

“There is a way of supporting opposition and bringing it into Western alliance,” he said.

And Avi Dichter, the former head of Israel’s Shin Bet, took to YouTube last week to deliver a message to the Syrian people in Arabic:

“As a human being, as an Israeli, as a member of the Israeli parliament,” Dichter said, “it is painful to see such heinous crimes against civilians in Syria. I am wondering why the world keeps silent.”

When the former heads of Israel’s external and internal security services both agree that Syria should be a priority, maybe it should be.

This week I called a friend with deep roots in Syria. I asked my friend what we, as Americans, as Jews, could do to express our support. The answer is: a concert to raise funds for Syrian refugees.

There are 130,000 Syrian refugees living in difficult conditions in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon. A concert that raises money to support the work of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the primary relief organization for Syrian refugees, would provide aid to people who have suffered at the hands of the Assad regime, and would be a symbol to the Syrians who remain inside their country that we are on their side. 

I asked my Syrian friend if his countrymen would look askance at the involvement of Jews and Israelis in organizing a benefit concert for them. Would they assume ulterior motives? 

“How could anyone criticize you for doing something good like that?” said my friend — who, you may have guessed by now, prefers to remain anonymous out of fear of the regime. “You are certainly doing a lot more than many people. Just do it. Stick to what matters, and do what’s right.”

There have been concerts for Syria in Chicago, London and even talk of one in Israel: Who in Los Angeles will step up?

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