In an effort to keep Syria from restarting its production of deadly nerve agents, Israel has carried out at least two attacks on chemical weapons sites in the war-torn country in the past two years, The Washington Post reported on Monday.
Citing current and former US and Western intelligence officials, the newspaper describes alleged Israeli airstrikes on June 8 that targeted three military sites linked to Syria’s former chemical weapons program. The strikes in Damascus and Homs reportedly killed seven Syrian soldiers, including an engineer who worked at a secret military lab.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes on Iran-linked forces in Syria since the war began in 2011 but rarely acknowledges the attacks. Israeli officials declined to confirm to the Washington Post whether its raids targeted Syria’s chemical weapons production.
The Post reports that in both the June raid and a similar one the year before, Israel had intelligence indicating Syria was “acquiring chemical precursors.” It’s unclear whether the attacks, which Israel intended to be “preemptive,” managed to degrade or destroy Syria’s production capabilities, the newspaper’s sources said.
Syria has long denied using chemicals against rebel forces and says it surrendered its stockpile of banned materials as part of a 2013 disarmament deal. The government of Bashar al-Assad and its main ally, Russia, regularly accuse the opposition of staging videos to resemble chemical attacks.
In October, Syrian ambassador to the United Nations Bassam Sabbagh told the Security Council that Syria “categorically condemned and rejected any use of chemical weapons under any circumstance, by whomever, whenever and wherever.”
But the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global watchdog based in The Hague, has documented several deadly chemical attacks in recent years at the hands of Syrian government forces.
An OPCW report released in April concluded there are “reasonable grounds” to believe that a Syrian air force helicopter dropped at least one cylinder containing chlorine on the town of Saraqib in rebel-held Idlib province on Feb. 4, 2018. In April 2020, the OPCW concluded that the Syrian military had likely used both chlorine and the nerve agent sarin in multiple aerial attacks targeting the opposition-held village of Ltamenah in March 2017.
The Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute had documented 349 cases of chemical weapons use since the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011, most of which occurred after President Barack Obama issued his infamous “red line” the following year.
Last week, the Treasury Department sanctioned two senior Syrian air force officers, Muhammad Youssef Al-Hasouri and Tawfiq Muhammad Khadour, accused of helping carry out chemical weapons attacks on Khan Shaykhun in 2017 and Eastern Ghouta in 2018.