World / Middle East

Israel fears Syrian missiles

(Xinhua) Updated: 2012-07-23 09:11

JERUSALEM - Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Friday said that he has ordered the army to prepare to intervene should Syria start to transfer missiles and chemical weapons to the Lebanese group Hezbollah.

"Syria has advanced anti-aircraft missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and elements of chemical weapons," Barak told local Chanel 2 TV, adding that "I directed the Israel Defense Forces ( IDF) to prepare for a situation where we will need to consider the possibility of an attack."

Syria is believed to have the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East, including Sarin nerve agents, cyanide, and blister agents like mustard gas.

"Clearly, Israel is very worried about the possibility that these weapons could be put in the hands of Hezbollah," Dr. Ely Karmon of the Interdisciplinary-Center in Herzliya told Xinhua on Sunday.

Hezbollah, classified by Israel as a terrorist organization, has vowed to destroy the Jewish state.

Israel and Hezbollah has fought a number of low and high- intensity wars over the years. During the latest in 2006, which began after a Hezbollah cross-border raid, the group fired over 4, 000 rockets into northern Israel, and a number towards areas closer to the center of the country.

Israeli concerns

Karmon said Israel is primarily concerned about Hezbollah's weapon stockpile and presence in Syria. According to him, Hezbollah already has a huge weapon arsenal including long-range missiles that can reach anywhere in Israel and could be fitted with chemical weapon warheads. Since the war, Hezbollah is estimated to have expanded its weaponry to some 40,000 missiles and rockets.

Furthermore, Hezbollah not only has good relations with Syrian military commanders, but also has a "physical" presence in Syria, Karmon said, citing reports that the group is taking an active role in the Syrian fighting.

"So Hezbollah is the first (group) that would take advantage of the chaos and control these facilities and transport the chemical agents to Lebanon," Karmon said.

In addition to Hezbollah, Israeli analysts are no less concerned about other jihadist organizations operating in Syria, such as al-Qaida-affiliated groups.

Karmon argued that some of these fighters are mainly entering Syria from Iraq, where they have been operating since the beginning of the Gulf War, often with the support of the Syrian intelligence services.

However, it now appears that this support is backfiring on the Syrian regime, Karmon said.

Complex estimations

Dr. Ephraim Kam of the Tel Aviv University said it is impossible to calculate the probability of an Israeli action, as there are a number of factors that need to be taken into account.

Despite the analytical complexity, Kam is sure that the Israeli defense establishment is very concerned.

"The question is, first of all, if Israel has the intelligence information needed for such an attack, which means to know exactly where the arsenal of chemical weapons is hidden," Kam said.

The second question is at what point it would be deemed necessary and if it is practically possible to conduct such an operation, he added.

"Still, it would be a very critical situation for Israel if a terrorist organization has chemical weapons," Kam said.

Karmon said although it is very unlikely that Israel would take any kind of action while the chemical weapons remain in Syria, should Hezbollah or another group try to move the stockpiles to Lebanon, the situation might change.

Both Kam and Karmon said that the future of the Syrian weaponry is not only an Israeli problem, but rather a regional and even global one, as the United States is also anxious about the arsenal.

US officials in recent days have termed the potential a direct national security threat.

Prof. Eytan Gilboa of the Bar-Ilan University said the issue -- while was not given much public attention -- was discussed during US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Israel last week.

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