Israeli intelligence officials say the moment is fast approaching when the country’s so-called “red line” triggers for military action in both Syria and Iran will have been crossed.
President Bashar al-Assad is already believed to have crossed the line in Syria by using chemical weapons.
And there is now a widely shared view within Israeli intelligence that Iran will have the option of a nuclear capability by the end of the year.
Analysts made clear at this week’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) conference at Tel Aviv University that Israel potentially faces two large-scale wars within months.
Amos Yadlin, the former commander of Israeli Military Intelligence, said of Iran: “We are headed toward a collision course by the end of this year.”
Mr Yadlin explained that by the summer it may be almost impossible for Israel to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons: “We have about two months to sleep soundly, until the Iranian elections. After that, I believe the Iranians will have to make a difficult decision.”
Meanwhile, Brigadier-General Itai Brun, commander of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Research Directorate, was unequivocal that “the Syrian regime has made use of chemical weapons”.
This has always been seen as a “red line” issue which would prompt Israeli military action.
According to Brig Gen Brun, photographic evidence indicates that Assad has “used deadly chemical substances in a number of cases against the rebels, most likely sarin gas.”
Israeli intelligence estimates that Syria has around 1,000 tons of chemical weapons. The main concern is that these and other advanced weapons could fall into the hands of Hizbollah and other jihadist movements.
US President Barack Obama warned the Syrians last August that using chemical weapons would be crossing “a red line”. Any verifiable use could force the Americans to abandon their policy of not intervening on the ground in Syria.
The US has been reticent in confirming the reports and Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday that he had “talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning. I think it is fair for me to say that he was not in a position to confirm that... I don’t know yet whatthe facts are.”
Despite his public scepticism, Mr Kerry has asked Nato to prepare a plan to counter the Syrian chemical weapons network.
Israel has been warning its allies in recent weeks to exercise extreme caution in helping arm the Syrian rebels as many have been infiltrated by elements with ties to Al Qaeda and the weapons could be used against Israel.
Mr Netanyahu emphasised this in his meeting in London last week with David Cameron.
An Israeli official involved in the talks said: “Syria is rapidly becoming a black-hole that can suck us in and keep us busy for years to come”
The warnings came while US Defence Secretary, Chuck Hagel, was ending his 3-day visit to Israel. Secretary Hagel announced an agreement to supply new weapons systems to Israel as part of a move to bolster the armed forces of Middle East nations facing Iran.
Mr Hagel’s visit was in a large part intended to allay any concerns Israel has over his personal commitment to its security. His appointment two months ago took place after an intense Senate battle in which pro-Israeli senators tried to block the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s who had in the past criticised Israel and its lobby in Washington and had also voiced opposition to an American strike on Iran’s nuclear programme.
In an attempt to win Israel’s trust, his office announced a major arms deal with Israel in advance of his visit and his statements throughout the stay in Israel were carefully tailored to reassure Israeli concerns.
“This is a difficult and dangerous time,” he said to the press before his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “This is a time when friends and allies must remain close, closer than ever.”
Mr Hagel’s meetings with Israel’s political and military leaders focused mainly on the Iranian threat and the situation in civil war-torn Syria.
Mr Netanyahu said that Israel and the United States were facing together the “arming of terrorist groups by Iran with sophisticated weapons, and equally, Iran’s attempt to arm itself with nuclear weapons.”
In a previous statement, Mr Hagel had said that “Israel is a sovereign nation; every sovereign nation has a right to defend itself” and that the decision whether to attack Iran “has to be made by Israel.” But while the tone in public was conciliatory, in his meeting, Mr Hagel, as had other senior American officials on previous visits to Israel, sought to assure that Israel would not attack Iran without coordinating its moves with the administration.
While a great deal of attention was focused during the Hagel visit on the proposed arms deal - its main components, do not dramatically change the strategic balance between Israel and Iran. The promised supply of aerial tankers will not take place for at least two years and though the tankers will expand Israel’s capability to launch wide-scale long-range airborne operations, this capability already exists due to the tankers Israel already has. In addition, the Americans will supply the V-22 vertical take-off and landing transport aircraft which will improve the Israeli Air Force’s special operations and search and rescue capabilities. But so far, the Obama administration is not supplying Israel with new bunker-busting bombs which would be useful in attacking Iran’s underground nuclear installations.
Israeli officials acknowledged that while they were grateful for the new arms deal, it was not aimed at helping Israel carry out a future strike on Iran, rather reinsuring Israel that American continues to support it and will deal with the Iranian threat itself if all other diplomatic channels and sanctions fail. In addition, the U.S. is also planning major arms deals with its Persian Gulf allies Saudi Arabia (further stops on Hagel’s itinerary) and the deal with Israel was in part designed to minimize any possible opposition to those deals from Israel’s supporters in Washington.