Israel on alert as threat of chemical warfare spreads
A chemical attack close to Israel’s border is a precedent Israel is unlikely to allow to be set
Israeli media recently reported that the country is continuing to track chemical weapons in Syria, including in the Golan Heights, and will act to prevent them from being used by terrorists. As the conflict continues to rage in the war-town country, an Israeli strike on any terrorist group in possession of chemical weapons – especially those based close to Israel’s own territory - becomes increasingly likely with each passing day.
According to the Times of Israel, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have assessed that the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade – an ISIS-affiliated faction based in southern Syria on Israel’s northern front – has possibly seized chemical weapons and could attempt to test them in the near-term. The report also indicated Israel does not assess that militants would attempt to carry out a chemical weapons attack on Israeli soil as fighters are “not currently concerned with Israel.”
Any faction in possession of chemical weapons is highly unlikely to target Israel in an attack in the near-term given that such an operation would trigger immediate and sustained retaliation, which they likely cannot withstand. Nonetheless, a chemical weapons attack taking place close to Israel’s border, regardless of which party is targeted, is a precedent Israel is unlikely to allow to be set.
In a second report, published by the same newspaper, an unnamed Israeli official confirmed that the Israeli military would indeed target any terrorist group conducting chemical weapons experiments, vowing that “Israel will not stand by — we will act to thwart such capabilities.”
Any faction in possession of chemical weapons is highly unlikely to target Israel given that such an operation would trigger immediate and sustained retaliationBrooklyn Middleton
These reports out of Israel are only the latest to confirm that the entirety of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal was not destroyed – despite the US and Russia backed deal that was struck in September 2013 and was supposed to achieve precisely that.
The Assad regime has continued to carry out chemical weapons attacks since the implementation of the deal, with chlorine attacks continuing to terrorize and harm; in February, the Syrian American Medical Society published a report noting that of 161 total chemical weapon attacks, “77 percent have occurred after the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2118 in September 2013, which created a framework for the destruction of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpiles.”
Israel has also warned earlier that the Assad regime has kept stockpiles of chemical weapons, including Sarin. Meanwhile, ISIS has also begun carrying out chemical weapons attacks, using mustard gas in both Syria and Iraq.
As chemical weapons attacks continue in Syria and more actors begin using such weapons, it can be assessed that Israel is increasingly motivated to act. Further, an Israeli attack on chemical weapons in Syria in the near-term would serve a two-fold purpose in addition to thwarting what could be the latest massacre in Syria.
The first would be to signal to the international community, including Russia and Iran, that Israel will continue to protect its interests no matter how the conflict changes or what party involves itself. The second would signal to the Assad regime that Israel remains fully capable and committed to protecting its northern front – both from the Syrian regime and from terrorists.
Just weeks ago, Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad made a particularly bellicose statement about the Golan Heights stating, “We are prepared to do anything in order to return the Golan to the Syrian motherland, including using military force.” “While there is no chance Syria will seek a broader conflict with Israel in the near future, Israel may still be inclined to demonstrate exactly how serious it is when it vows to protect its northern front from both current and future threats.”
Going by the spiraling cycle of violence being witnessed in the region, it is anybody’s guess what dimension this chemical warfare will take.
Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst currently based in New York City. She has previously written about US President Obama's policy in Syria as well as Bashar al-Assad's continued crimes against his own people. She recently finished her MA thesis on Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, completing her Master's degree in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.