JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad retains control of the country’s reputed chemical weapons and they are not sought by his Hezbollah guerrilla allies in neighboring Lebanon, a senior Israeli official said on Saturday.
Defense Ministry strategist Amos Gilad spoke after another Israeli official said Israel had sent warplanes on Friday to attack a Hezbollah-bound missile shipment in Syria, where Assad is battling a more than two-year-old insurgency.
Israel has long made clear it is prepared to resort to force to prevent advanced Syrian weapons reaching Hezbollah or jihadi rebels. In late January, regional sources said Israel destroyed a convoy carrying Syrian anti-aircraft missiles to Hezbollah.
Gilad said Assad had huge quantities of chemical weapons, missiles and rockets. “The good news is that this is under full control (of the Syrian government),” he said in a speech.
“Nor is a group like Hezbollah ... keen to take this (chemical) weaponry. It is keen to take weapon systems, like rockets that can reach, say, all the way here,” added Gilad, who was speaking in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba.
Israel believes that Hezbollah, which is allied with Israel’s arch-enemy Iran, has built up an arsenal of about 60,000 missiles and rockets. The guerrilla group fired 4,000 missiles into Israel during the 2006 Lebanon war.
The Assad government has hedged on whether it has chemical weapons while saying it would not use such arms against Syrians.
The matter has been subject to intensive international scrutiny since Israel and the United States last month published findings indicating Assad forces had used chemical weapons during the insurgency.
Gilad suggested that Hezbollah, unlike a regular military, may not be equipped to handle chemical weapons.
“There is a problem with chemical weaponry. It can also kill those who don’t know how to use it. It is not a sympathetic thing. So, for now it is under control. It is very important that it is under control,” Gilad said.
Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Pravin Char