Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a message to both Syria and Iran on Thursday saying that the long arm of the Israel Defense Forces will strike a strong blow against anyone who attempts to harm the country. Speaking at a pilot graduation event at the Hatzerim air base, Netanyahu addressed the current crisis in Syria as well.
"We all see what's going on in Syria. Syria's air force is striking hundreds of citizens and has no problem using any means at its disposal. Israel is monitoring the situation there closely and will do anything necessary to protect itself from a Syrian threat or any other threat. Israel extends its hand in an offer of peace to anyone who wants peace, but those who threaten us should know that our long arm will deal devastating blows to protect the country."
Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz, who also attended the event, said, "Israel must prepare itself for the day after [Syrian President] Bashar Assad and all that his departure will entail, and take into account the possible rise to power of extreme elements under the guidance of Iran, which is involved up to its neck in the Syrian crisis, arming Assad's regime and keeping it afloat with monetary aid."
The prime minister's remarks came on the heels of reports of a recent meeting between him and Jordan's King Abdullah II during which, among other things, they discussed ways to secure Syria's chemical weapons.
Two television stations and several Israeli news sites quoted unnamed Israeli officials as confirming the original report of the summit in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.
According to the Arabic report, Netanyahu proposed a coordinated Israeli-Jordanian lightning airstrike to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. The report said the Jordanians declined the option out of concern that it would cause chemical fallout around the target sites, and because such an attack could cause thousands of civilian casualties.
Al-Quds Al-Arabi also reported that Israel had proposed a second option, a comprehensive joint military incursion into Syria. The operation would include at least 8,000 soldiers entering Syria from different directions to secure and neutralize the chemical weapons sites, safeguarding them until a decision could be made about how to best dispose of the stocks.
The Jordanians did not support the Israeli proposals, according to the report, but neither did they completely reject them.
The U.S. is gearing up for a possible military intervention in Syria in the event that chemical weapons are used on Syrian citizens or alternately fall into the wrong hands, Strategic Affairs Minister and Vice Prime Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya'alon told Israel Radio on Thursday.
Ya’alon voiced conviction that it was unlikely Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's sizable chemical weapons stockpiles would be used against Israel at this time, but said, “The very discussion of the issue, and the U.S.'s need to draw red lines, points to how dangerous Assad really is."
The U.S. and others have drawn two red lines recently,” Ya'alon said.
“One [was] back in September, for the event that these weapons fall into hostile, irresponsible hands, perhaps Hezbollah, or other groups, possibly al-Qaida. The other red line was drawn approximately four weeks ago on the understanding that Assad was considering and preparing and planning to use chemical weapons on his own people. That is why all the neighboring countries in the region are concerned, including Israel.
“The U.S. is certainly spearheading the battle here, both diplomatically and in preparation for the possibility of intervention. I don't know about deploying forces, but certainly there are different options to prevent this. Therefore, all the interested parties, including Israel, are closely monitoring the situation."
Meanwhile, despite an international outcry, Syrian troops have apparently been continuing their use of weapons banned by international treaties. Witnesses told Sky News in Arabic that Syrian aircraft and artillery pounded the city of Irbin which is said to be under the control of the opposition Syrian Free Army on Thursday using phosphorus shells that can severely burn the skin.
Videos were uploaded to the Internet on Thursday showing Syrian planes dropping phosphorus shells over unidentified targets in the area of Dir al-Zur in the northeast.
Reports claimed that more than 90 people were killed in fighting throughout Syria on Thursday. More than 30 were said to have been killed in an aerial bombardment of a Palestinian refugee camp near Damascus and some 40 people, belonging to both Syrian troops and opposition forces, were reportedly killed in a clash that took place near a military air base close to Haleb. After several hours of fighting, rebels publicized videos showing their takeover of the base.
The Syrian "Damas Post" website reported that, according to senior Syrian officials employed in the president's palace in Damascus, Assad's personal security detail has been reinforced as concern for his life has been steadily on the rise recently. According to the report, Assad does not sleep in the same bedroom more than one night in a row and a bodyguard tastes his food two hours before he ingests it for fear it may have been poisoned.