JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel does not perceive an immediate threat from Syria’s chemical weapons, a senior Israeli official said on Sunday, after Western powers warned Damascus could use or lose such arms in the chaos of civil war.
As Syria’s southern neighbor, Israel feels at risk from the deepening conflict and has said it would intervene to stop jihadi rebels or Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas seizing President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons.
“On these matters, we have to be prepared to protect ourselves, by ourselves,” Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel Radio. He added: “At this time, we see no sign that this weaponry is being pointed at us”.
Yaalon is a former head of the Israeli Defense Force who is now in charge of strategic affairs in the government.
Some Israeli officials have voiced concern that Assad could attack the Jewish state with chemical weapons in a last stand to rally support from the Arab world.
U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton said last week that Washington was worried an “increasingly desperate” Assad could use chemical weapons against rebels or lose control of them.
Israel and NATO countries say Syria has stocks of various chemical warfare agents at four sites.
Syria has been cagey about whether it has such weapons but insists that, if it had, it would keep them secure and use them only to fend off foreign foes. Though technically at war, Israel and Syria have not fought major battles in almost 40 years.
Rebels who have been fighting to topple Assad have recently overrun some Syrian military bases. Radical Islamist groups, including foreign jihadi fighters, are involved in the revolt.
Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer