OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel cautiously welcomed on Sunday a U.S.-Russian deal to remove Syria's chemical weapons, hours before planned talks in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Saturday for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to account for his chemical arsenal within a week and let international inspectors eliminate it all by the middle of 2014.
"Like any deal it will be judged on its results. We hope it will succeed," said Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is close to Netanyahu.
"The deal has advantages and disadvantages," he told Army Radio.
"On the one hand, it lacks the necessary speed (in removing chemical arms from Syria). On the other hand, it is much more comprehensive, as it includes a Syrian commitment to dismantle the manufacturing facilities and to never again produce (chemical weapons)," he said.
Also on Army Radio, Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, said intelligence that Israel has gathered on neighbouring Syria could help verify Assad's compliance with the accord.
"We will understand Assad's intentions only in a week when he is meant to hand over a full list of all the chemical weapons at his disposal, and I think Israel has a not bad idea of what chemical weapons he has," Lieberman said.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu said Assad must be stripped of his chemical arsenal and that the outcome of the Syrian crisis would resonate loudly in Iran, whose nuclear programme Israel believes is aimed at producing atomic arms - an allegation Tehran denies.
Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of Syria's civil war, a two-and-a-half-year conflict that pits the Iranian-allied Assad government against rebels who include Islamist militants deeply hostile toward the Jewish state.
"I don't know how the Iranians are reading the deal, because it is also problematic as far as they are concerned," Steinitz said. "Here is their ally, Assad, forced to give up his chemical weapons."
Netanyahu, hinting repeatedly at the possibility of Israeli military strikes on Iran should Western sanctions and diplomacy fail, has called on Tehran to hand over all its uranium enriched above 3.5 percent and to stop any further purification of the metal toward possible weapons-grade level.