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Middle East

Israel tracking chemical weapons in Syria, report says

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2012-12-13

Amid mounting international warnings about Syria’s chemical weapons threat, a recent report in a British weekly said Israeli special forces are operating inside Syria to try to track its non-conventional weapons stocks.

While several Western governments have been warning the Syrian regime against using its chemical weapons, Israel has apparently gone a step further, according to a British news report, by deploying Israeli special forces inside Syria as spotters to track the country’s chemical and biological weapons stocks.

Over the past few days, the US and other Western governments have raised concerns that an increasingly desperate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could “cross a red line,” in the words of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and use chemical weapons. Another fear is that the nation’s stockpiles could end up in the wrong hands.

While US and Israeli officials are widely believed to be monitoring the country’s known chemical depots, a recent report in the Sunday Times said Israel has embarked on a “secret war” to track Syria’s non-conventional weapons, by deploying Israeli special forces as spotters across the border to monitor the movement of these arms caches.

“For years we’ve known the exact location of Syria’s chemical and biological munitions,” The Times quoted an Israeli source as saying. “But in the past week we’ve got signs that munitions have been moved to new locations.”

Israeli officials have declined to comment on the report.

French defense minister says West ‘knows’ storage sites

Amid mounting international fears that the regime may be moving its unconventional weapons stockpiles, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Western countries "know" where the Syrian regime has stored its chemical weapons and he stressed that they are “not being used today".

In an interview with a French radio and TV station Tuesday, Le Drian affirmed that Syria does have chemical stockpiles. "They are stored; we know the places where they are stored. Western nations such as France and the United States know where they are stored, and they are not used today," said Le Drian, adding that these weapons are now "protected by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad."

Mirroring Le Drian’s assessment, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters Tuesday that the Syrian government seems to have slowed preparations for the possible use of chemical weapons against rebel targets.

The recent heightened alerts on Syria’s non-conventional stockpiles have raised the spectre in some circles of the Bush administration’s faulty intelligence on former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War, with some correspondents calling the latest report, “Syrian weapons of mass deception”.

Israel’s ‘game changer’ scenario

But in Israel, which shares a 75-kilometre border with Syria, Assad’s chemical weapons threat is taken seriously. Israeli government officials have repeatedly said Israel is ready to intervene if Syria’s lethal arsenal falls into the hands of Islamist groups, including Hezbollah and the Palestinian Hamas.

In an interview with the US network Fox News on Sunday, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said that if Syria’s chemical weapons were to pass in to “the wrong hands, Hezbollah’s hands, for example, that would be a game changer for us”.

During the summer of 2011, the Israeli army was assured that Syria’s chemical weapons were still under the control of the Assad regime. Israeli army officials even said security had been tightened around the sites.

But over the past few weeks, US intelligence has observed suspicious movements on sites containing the Syrian army’s toxic weapons. US media has also reported that the Syrian regime had started mixing the components necessary for the production of sarin, a deadly organophosphate pesticide that has been classified as a chemical weapon by the UN since 1987.

Report says Israel seeks Jordan’s green light on Syria strikes

The latest report on Israeli special forces inside Syria came a week after US monthly The Atlantic reported that Israel has asked Jordan twice in the last two months for a green light to attack chemical weapons facilities in Syria.

According to the report, unnamed intelligence officials from Jordan and Israel said in both cases Jordan declined to grant Israel the “permission”.

Israeli officials have once again declined to comment on the report.

For its part, Damascus has dismissed the recent Western reports on its chemical weapons threat. Responding to the reports last week, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Maqdad called the reports a "cinema" designed to serve as a justification for a foreign intervention on Syrian soil.

Date created : 2012-12-11

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