For the first time in many years, voices in the US administration were criticizing the Israeli defense forces for under-reacting and, in this case, also underestimating the chemical weapons threat emanating from Syria and neglecting to pursue counter-measures. This is what visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak heard when he met US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon Tuesday, March 5, as the new defense secretary’s first foreign visitor.
DEBKAfile’s military and Washington sources disclose that Barak was berated for “inadequate and cursory” military preparations which failed to take into account that a chemical attack on Israel would make it necessary for the IDF to enter Syria – most likely for an offensive operation coordinated against the common threat with the Turkish and Jordanian armies.
Present at the meeting between Hagel and Barak were also Gen. Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Chiefs of Staff and Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. Our sources add that the conversation ranged over the Syrian crisis with no reference to a nuclear Iran.
From the defense secretary, Barak heard intelligence estimates confirmed for the first time by an American official that Hizballah has been able to procure a quantity of chemical weapons from Syria – a development which Israel’s leaders have vowed to prevent.
The proliferation of chemical weapons to HIzballah and other armed bands on Israel’s borders was apparently in the mind of Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin, UN Security Council president for March, when he cautioned Monday that trouble was building up between Israel and Syria.
Read DEBKAfile’s earlier report:
At UN Center in New York, Israeli and Russian delegates separately warned Monday, March 4, of a dangerous situation developing in the area of separation on the Golan captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Syrian troops were forbidden to enter this area under a ceasefire formalized in 1974 between Syria and Israel.
Israeli UN Ambassador Ron Prosor complained to the Security Council about five shells fired from this very area which landed in Israel Saturday, March 2. "Israel cannot be expected to stand idle as the lives of its citizens are being put at risk by the Syrian government's reckless actions," Proser wrote in a Note to the council. "Israel has shown maximum restraint thus far."
Russia’s UN Ambasador Vitaly Churkin then spoke of “a very new and dangerous phenomenon” of armed groups operating in the Golan area of separation. “It’s something which potentially can undermine security between Syria and Israel,” said Churkin, who is acting Security Council president for March. He pointed out that the UN peacekeeping force is unarmed and unable to cope with this new situation. Israel and Syria are technically in a state of war.
DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources note that the exchange of warnings between Israel and Russia touched two sensitive nerves:
1. It occurred the day before definitive talks open in Moscow between the Syrian government and opposition. The Russians fear Israel might embark on military action in response to the round of shells fired from the Syrian Golan Saturday, and force a delay in the talks. The last time this happened, in late January, Israel reacted with a cross-border attack on Syrian military installations.
2. Saturday, too, DEBKAfile exposed the no-man’s lands unfolding along Syria’s borderlands with Israel and Jordan following the withdrawal of the bulk of Syrian forces from these areas. Moscow fears additionally that Israel’s armed forces will seize strategic points in the abandoned territory to clear out armed bands of the pro-al Qaeda Jabhat al Nusra, which are believed responsible for the latest round of shelling into the Israeli Golan.
Churkin’s warning referred to “armed groups” as the potential troublemakers, but he was also cautioning Israel to desist from fighting back so as not to upset Moscow’s diplomatic initiative for resolving the Syrian civil war.