JERUSALEM – Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike to stop Syria’s chemical weapons from reaching Lebanon’s Hezbollah or al-Qaida inspired groups, officials said Sunday.
The warning came as the military moved a rocket defense system to a main northern city, and Israel’s premier warned of dangers from both Syria and Iran.
Israel has long expressed concerns that Syrian President Bashar Assad, clinging to power during a 22-month civil war, could lose control over his chemical weapons.
Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said Sunday that Israel’s top security officials held a special meeting last week to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. The fact of the meeting, held the morning after a national election, had not been made public before.
Shalom told the Army Radio station that the transfer of weapons to violent groups, particularly the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hezbollah, would be a game changer.
“It would be crossing a line that would demand a different approach, including even action,” he said. Asked whether this might mean a pre-emptive attack, he said: “We will have to make the decisions.”
Israel has kept out of the civil war that has engulfed Syria and killed more than 60,000 people, but it is concerned that violence could spill over from its northern border into Israel.
Israel deployed its Iron Dome rocket defense system in the northern city of Haifa on Sunday. The city was battered by Hezbollah rocket fire during a war in the summer of 2006. The military called the deployment “routine.”
Yisrael Hasson, a lawmaker and former deputy head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency, said Israel was closely following developments in Syria to make sure chemical weapons don’t “fall into the wrong hands.”
Syria has rarely acknowledged possessing chemical weapons.