The question of whether chemical and biological weapons will fall into the hands of terror groups has become a surprisingly central one. The possibility was discussed in the past, but those discussions never developed into the massive media racket we’re currently experiencing. Israeli leaders have pushed the matter to the top of the Israeli and world agenda. The movement of Syrian chemical weapons has become the greatest threat against the Israeli state.
We are repeatedly hearing that Israel will not tolerate, under any circumstances, a situation in which Hezbollah obtains such weapons. Moreover, the possibility of war against Syria has been raised. Statements by the chief of staff in a press conference – excuse me, I mean in a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee – about a potential operation, either pinpointed or broad, brought about a flurry of commentary. It debated whether it’s better to attack the convoy carrying chemical weapons from Syria to Lebanon or Iraq, or whether we should attack chemical and biological stockpiles in Syria before they fall into the hands of Hezbollah or other extremist Islamist groups, thereby risking an all-out war with Syria. And that raises an immediate dilemma: if we attack in Syria, we’ll damage our ability to strike Iran.
I am by no means minimizing the danger of chemical weapons falling into the hands of actors who hate Israel, whoever they may be. This is a danger that is as clear as day, and it needs to be monitored through intelligence. But the dimensions of the danger are being grossly exaggerated. Increasing talk of the resultant war that will break out borders, in my opinion, is foolishness.
Firstly, this is just one of many risks entailed in the disintegration of the Syrian state and its strong central regime. It is largely in the psychological realm, as it sparks fears in everyone’s hearts. I, for example, see a far more tangible risk that groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda take over the Golan Heights and turn the area into a base for terrorism.
Therefore the transfer of chemical weapons is in essence a tactical matter, and is part of Israel’s general strategic problem, which centers on the question of which policy should be implemented against the backdrop of the possible disintegration of the Syrian state. In my opinion, there will be many more upheavals in Syria, and the principle that should guide us is one of total non-intervention, except in purely humanitarian matters.
It is against this backdrop that careful, quiet consideration should be undertaken, without discussions regularly leaking from the Foreign Affairs and Security Committee, about the appropriate Israeli policy regarding Syria, in light of concrete developments on the ground.
We just “celebrated” 30 years since the start of the first Lebanon war. There, we intervened in a state that was at the peak of disintegration, with no central rule. If there is one lesson to be learned from that war, it is to not intervene. The same goes for Syria, where many countries are already involved.
Second, in my estimation, the last thing that Hezbollah wants is to receive the hot potato that is chemical weaponry. Such weapons in Hezbollah’s hands will turn it and Lebanon as a whole not only into legitimate targets for a massive Israeli attack, but also into a legitimate target for the United States, without Nasrallah being able to rely on support from Russia or China. Chemical weapons would immediately kill all of Hezbollah’s efforts at painting itself as a respectable political organization that is part of the Lebanese regime and engages in charitable activities. In my opinion, the transfer of Syria’s advanced anti-aircraft missiles or advanced ship-to-shore missiles to Hezbollah’s hands is a much bigger threat to Israel.
Third, a bit of history: Saddam Hussein had chemical missiles in the first Gulf War in 1991, and he didn’t fire them at Israel. When the Soviet Union collapsed, everyone was talking about what then seemed to be a certainty that the breached nonconventional arsenal, which included small nuclear bombs, would fall into the hands of terror groups. And did any such thing happen then?