Syria has the biggest chemical weapons stocks in the world and missiles and rockets that can reach any point in Israel, the Jewish state’s deputy military chief warned.
Maj. Gen. Yair Naveh said if Syria had the chance, it would “treat us the same way it treats its own people.”
Naveh’s remarks, made at a ceremony in Jerusalem commemorating fallen soldiers on Sunday night, were reported on Monday by Israeli radio stations, according to The Associated Press.
Syrian activists estimate more than 14,000 people have died since the uprising in Syria erupted 15 months ago.
Israel has been watching the carnage in neighboring Syria with increasing concern.
The two countries have fought major wars and Syria backs violent anti-Israel groups. Multiple attempts to reach a peace deal have failed.
Israel has concerns that such weapons might fall into the hands of the Lebanese armed group of Hezbollah or terror organizations.
Israeli military analysts say Syria has spent the past 40 years producing nerve gas, as well as mustard gas, which can be used in missiles.
And earlier this month, chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz told MPs that the unrest in Syria was affecting stability on the strategic Golan Heights plateau, half of which is held by Syria while the other half is occupied by Israel.
“In the Golan Heights, there is an instability developing that is on the rise, as a result of events in Syria, including in the zone adjacent to the border,” Gantz told the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defense, according to AFP.
“The incidents have not reached the level of terror activity, but could get there,” he said in remarks quoted by a spokesman.
Two weeks ago, Israel’s daily Haaretz cited a top Syrian opposition figure, who was a former senior officer in the Syrian Army -- on conditions of anonymity -- as saying that once the regime of Assad collapses, the Syrian opposition plans to take control of the regime’s chemical weapons depots and secure them.
He told the Israeli daily that the large arsenal of chemical weapons held by the regime “is one of the matters the security committee has discussed.”
“We have divided the aftermath [of Assad’s fall] into four periods with different priorities for each day. The first period is the first day, the first hours after Assad’s control breaks down, and one of the priorities during those hours is taking control of the chemical weapons so they won’t fall into the hands of terrorists,” the former officer – now a top member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) -- was quoted by Haaretz as saying.
On Sunday, Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz urged world powers to oust President Bashar al-Assad in the same way that last year’s Western-backed campaign in Libya overthrew former strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
“A crime against humanity, genocide, is being conducted in Syria today. And the silence of the world powers is contrary to all human logic,” Mofaz told Israel’s Army Radio.
“Since in the not-distant past the powers chose military intervention in Libya, here the required conclusion would be immediate military intervention to bring down the Assad regime,” he said, according to Reuters.
Israel had so far taken a cautious line on the uprising in its Arab neighbor. While the overthrow of Assad would weaken his close ally and Israel’s main enemy Iran, it has been wary of what might happen if the Syrian leader were to be replaced by an Islamist government more hostile to the Jewish state.
Comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday suggested that concerns about Iran may be starting to predominate in Israel’s calculations.
“This is a slaughter carried out not only by the Syrian government. It is being helped by Iran and Hezbollah,” he said in broadcast remarks to his cabinet. “The world should understand what kind of environment we live in.”
Iran denies helping Assad to crush dissent.
Netanyahu has steered clear of explicitly calling for military intervention in Syria, telling Bild newspaper last week: “That’s a decision for the leading powers who are now talking about it. The less I say as prime minister of Israel, the better.”