JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli leaders said Sunday they were following the escalating violence in Syria for signs militants were seizing the regime's chemical weapons or missiles, after Israel declared over the weekend that it was prepared to attack Syrian arsenals to prevent that from happening.
The increasingly precarious situation of President Bashar Assad's regime is stoking Israeli fears that militants affiliated with Lebanon's Hezbollah or al-Qaida would raid Syrian military arsenals for chemicals weapons or sophisticated missiles that could strike Israeli territory. Speculation of an Israeli assault on these arsenals has mounted since Syrian rebels struck at the heart of the government last week, killing four high-level officials and exposing new vulnerabilities of Assad's regime.
Senior Defense Ministry policy planner Amos Gilad told Israel's Army Radio that "right now, they (the Syrian regime) are maintaining control of these arsenals as best they can."
But Israel is on alert for the possibility that Syria's large chemical stocks could be seized by Lebanese militants, Al-Qaida-affiliated radicals or other unspecified "irresponsible elements" operating in Syria, he hastened to add.
Over the weekend, Defense Minister Ehud Barak made it clear that Israel was preparing for the worst. "I've ordered the Israeli military to prepare for a situation where we would have to weigh the possibility of carrying out an attack" against Syrian weapons arsenals, he told Channel 2 TV.
On Sunday, he told reporters, "the state of Israel cannot accept a situation where advanced weapons systems are transferred from Syria to Lebanon." And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet that "we are following events closely and are prepared for any eventuality that might develop."
The possibility that the bloodshed in Syria could spill over Israel's frontier has become an even more tangible worry as the fighting intensifies in Assad's strongholds and near the frontier with the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
Barak warned last week that Israel would stop Syrian refugees from entering the Golan should they try to flee there. And the head of military intelligence voiced concern that Syrian territory bordering the Golan could become a haven for militant groups, much like Egypt's Sinai desert has become a launching pad for attacks on southern Israel.
Defense officials have said Israeli troops in the Golan have not been put on a war footing.