Israel has held talks with its Western allies and the Jordanian government over the possibility of attacking Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.
Officials involved in these talks have confirmed their existence and said that Israel was dissuaded from carrying out pre-emptive attacks.
Syria’s neighbours are worried that, in an act of desperation, President Bashar al-Assad could order his commanders to use part of the extensive arsenal of chemical weapons at his disposal.
While concern over the use of poison gases has prompted Turkey to request and receive Patriot air-defence missiles from Nato, and Jordan has accepted assistance from the US in preparing for a chemical attack, Israel has an additional concern.
The Lebanese movement Hizbollah has thousands of fighters in Syria, and Israeli military chiefs have said that a situation in which the terror organisation gets its hands on chemical weapons would be “a game-changer”.
According to Jordanian sources, Israel proposed launching an attack on the chemical arms bases through Jordanian territory, but that the plan was turned down over its apparent lack of feasibility. One Jordanian official said that “we are talking about around 50 bases. This is too big an operation to undertake and Jordan won’t be part of it”.
Commanders in the Syrian Free Army have said in the past that they have plans to secure the chemical weapon stockpiles. But in recent weeks, it has become apparent that the SFA does not control the jihadist or Salafist groups. In addition, there have been intelligence reports that the Syrian security forces have moved some of the chemical weapons from their known locations.
German magazine Focus reported this week that special forces from Israel, the US and France are operating within Syria to locate chemical weapons and prevent their use or removal.
On Sunday, at the weekly cabinet meeting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We are co-operating with the US and the international community in taking the necessary steps to prepare ourselves for the possibility of significant changes in the regime.”