Israel tones down Syrian chemical weapons threat

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Monday, July 30, 2012

Israel on Monday played down the risk posed by Syria's chemical weapons, only a week after threatening to use military force to prevent the arsenal from falling into the hands of Hezbollah.

Israel has been particularly worried that the Lebanese movement may gain access to the weapons should Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's grip slip amid a 17-month-old insurgency.

Israeli government warnings spread war fears, with sales of gas masks peaking in the country.

But Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday admitted the panic was misplaced.

"Nothing will happen," Barak told Israel Radio in an interview, joking that he would return his gas mask.

"In my opinion, no one in the world would dare to use chemical weapons against Israel. So nothing is going to happen."

Israel has the only nuclear arsenal in the region, but Syria has developed a chemical weapons arsenal to act as a deterrent to any Israeli attack.

Hezbollah thwarted an Israeli attempt to invade Lebanon in the July 2006 War. The border has remained relatively calm ever since.

Barak has repeatedly warned that in any new conflict, Israel would consider the whole of Lebanon fair game, prompting Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah to warn that his group would hit all major Israeli cities in retaliation.

Some Israeli officials have also expressed concern that radical Sunni Islamists among rebels fighting Assad may try to seize Syria's chemical weapons.

Israel is technically at war with Syria and occupies the Golan Heights, which it captured in the 1967 war and later annexed illegally.

But the countries have not directly exchanged fire in three decades, and a parliamentary briefing last week by the Israeli armed forces chief about the risk of "uncontrollable deterioration" in Syria was interpreted by local media as a caution against opening a new fighting front with Assad.

"As long as the situation in Syria is still within Assad's control, Israel has no reason to worry," Eitan Haber, former spokesman for the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, wrote in the biggest-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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