Any sign of Syria's grip on its suspected chemical weapons slipping as it battles an armed uprising could trigger Israeli military strikes, Israel's vice premier said on Sunday.
Silvan Shalom confirmed a media report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had last week convened security chiefs to discuss the civil war in nearby Syria and the state of the country’s chemical arsenal.
The meeting, held on Wednesday, had not been publicly announced and was seen as especially unusual as it came while votes were still being counted from Israel's national election the day before, which Netanyahu’s party list won narrowly.
Should Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas or rebels battling forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad obtain Syrian chemical weapons, Shalom told Israel’s Army
Radio, “it would dramatically change the capabilities of those organizations”.
Such a development would be “a crossing of all red lines that would require a different approach, including even preventive operations”, he said - alluding to military intervention, for which Israeli generals have said plans have been readied.
“The concept, in principle, is that this (chemical weapons transfer) must not happen,” Shalom said. “The moment we begin to understand that such a thing is liable to happen, we will have to make decisions.”
Interviewed separately by Army Radio, Civil Defense Minister Avi Dichter said Syria was “on the verge of collapse”.
But asked whether Israel perceived an imminent threat, Dichter said: “No, not yet. I suppose that when things pose a danger to us, the State of Israel will know about it.”
France, among the most vocal backers of Syria’s rebels, said last week there were no signs Assad was about to be overthrown.