Syria: Israel deploys defence, diplomacy

2013-01-28 15:02

Jerusalem - Israel is increasingly worried that Syrian chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Islamist militants and is taking military and diplomatic steps to prevent it, local media and a security source said on Monday.

Two batteries of Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system have been deployed to the north of the country in case military action against targets in neighbouring Syria or Lebanon becomes necessary, a security source said on condition of anonymity.

He said Israel believes Lebanon's Shi'ite movement Hezbollah has a large number of forces in Syria that are supporting President Bashar Assad against Sunni rebels, but which are also keen to grab his chemical weapons if he falls.

"A decision to attack in Syria or Lebanon will need to be implemented immediately," if it is taken, he said.

"There won't be time then to start deploying."

The Israeli army played down its manoeuvres, saying in a statement that only one battery had been moved north.

Close co-ordination

"As part of the operational deployment programme, which includes changing locations throughout Israel from time to time, [an] Iron Dome battery is currently in the north," it said.

The Maariv daily said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had "urgently dispatched" his national security advisor to Moscow, where he will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

He is expected to ask the Russians to use their influence to try to prevent the weapons from falling out of Assad's control.

The newspaper added that Netanyahu met US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro on Sunday. Shapiro said on Monday that the two countries were closely co-ordinating on events in Syria.

"There is a genuine discussion between our intelligence services," he told Israeli public radio.

"There are two dangerous possibilities," he said. "Either the regime will use chemical weapons against the Syrian people or the chemical weapons will pass to Hezbollah or to other extremist organisations."

"We want to prevent both those possibilities taking place."