The Syrian army has begun transfering portions of the country’s chemical weapons arsenal to the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah, according to an Israeli opposition figure. If confirmed – and Israeli defense officials quoted by the Associated Press and by Israeli sources considered the assessment premature – the development would mark a dramatic escalation by the Syrian regime:
Syria’s chemical weapons are “trickling” to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, a veteran Israeli lawmaker and former defense minister said Monday in the first claim by a senior politician in Israel that one of the country’s nightmare scenarios is coming true. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who also called for international intervention in the Syria’s civil war to stop mass civilian deaths, did not supply any evidence for his claim…
Ben-Eliezer, a member of the opposition Labor party, also told Israel Radio that he “has no doubt” that Syrian President Bashar Assad has already used chemical weapons and that that “these weapons are trickling to Hezbollah.” His statements do not represent an official assessment and defense officials say that, while they are concerned about Hezbollah getting chemical weapons, they are assuming it has not yet done so.
Israeli officials have repeatedly emphasized that Jerusalem would act to prevent terrorist groups on either side of the Syrian conflict from acquiring advanced weapons. The Israelis are widely suspected of having intervened at least once to stop the transfer of such weapons to Hezbollah.
Meanwhile Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah recently traveled to Iran for secret meetings on a variety of topics. Nasrallah met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who Hezbollah venerates as the group’s highest authority. On the agenda: a war with Israel described in Arabic media outlets as “inevitable”:
Kuwaiti newspaper al-Rai says sources report Nasrallah met two weeks ago with Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as other senior Iranian officials, during a secret visit to Iran. Nasrallah was said to have discussed the “comprehensive situation” in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as Israel, the newspaper said Sunday. The sources said the sides noted a future war with Israel is “inevitable” and preparations must be made.
The meetings come amid worries that Hezbollah is trying to drag Israel into a war with Lebanon. The group’s involvement in the Syrian conflict, where it has committed thousands of soldiers to fight on behalf of the Bashar al-Assad reigme, has badly hurt Hezbollah’s image. Hezbollah justifies its vast weapons arsenal and its usurption of Lebanese sovereignty – the organization has established a state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon – by insisting that it exists to protect Lebanese territory.
Hezbollah’s battles on behalf of the Damascus regime, which is intermittently bombing Lebanese territory, sits uneasily alongside those assertions.
[Photo: Kodak Agfa / Flickr]