May 18, 2013
Israel threatens Syria strike if rebels get chemical arms
Any sign that Syria's grip on its chemical weapons is slipping as it battles armed rebels could trigger Israeli military strikes, Israel's vice premier said.
Silvan Shalom confirmed a media report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had last week convened a meeting of security chiefs to discuss the civil war in Syria and the state of its suspected chemical arsenal.
Israel and NATO countries say Syria has stocks of chemical warfare agents at four sites. Syria is cagey about whether it has such arms but says if it had it would keep them secure and use them only to fend off foreign attack.
The Israeli meeting on Wednesday had not been publicly announced and was seen as unusual as it came while votes were being counted from Israel's parliamentary 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 Syria's 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."
Addressing his cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu said he intended to put together "the broadest and most stable government as possible in order, first of all, to meet the significant security threats that face the State of Israel".
Difficult coalition talks could be ahead for Netanyahu with factions representing widely different sectors of the population.