Lebanon News

Hezbollah may get chemical arms if Assad falls: Netanyahu

In this April 1996 file photo, two Hezbollah fighters stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari, file)

WASHINGTON: The “great threat” to Israel from the Syrian conflict is that the Damascus government may collapse and its stock of chemical weapons and missiles fall into the hands of Hezbollah, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday.

Interviewed on the U.S. “Fox News Sunday” television program, Netanyahu said Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government would fall and that he was worried that a chaotic “regime collapse” might leave Syria’s weapons sites unguarded.

“We certainly don’t want to be exposed to chemical weapons falling into the hands of Hezbollah or some other terror groups ... It’s a great threat,” he said.

“We will have to consider our action. Do I seek action? No. Do I preclude it? No,” Netanyahu said when asked whether Israel would act alone or prefer the U.S. to take the lead.

In a speech last week, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said that Syria had supplied important weapons during the fight with Israel in the 2006 summer war.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud said Sunday that his country would not tolerate the transfer of advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

“The state of Israel cannot accept the transfer of advanced weapons systems from Syria to Lebanon,” he said in remarks relayed by his office.

“We are closely monitoring the possibility that Hezbollah will try to take advantage of the opportunity to transfer advanced weapons systems,” he said, referring to the Lebanese group, a key ally of the embattled regime of the Syrian president.

“It is inappropriate to say any more than this – when we would act, how we would act, if indeed we would act,” he said in remarks communicated by a spokesman.

Barak had said Friday that Israel would consider taking military action if needed to ensure that Syrian missiles and chemical weapons remain out of the hands of Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, which in the past has received military and financial support from Syria and Iran, launched thousands of mainly short-range rockets into Israel during the Jewish state’s 2006 offensive in southern Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu reiterated Israeli charges that Hezbollah and Iran were behind the suicide bombing in Bulgaria last week that killed five Israeli tourists. Iran has denied any involvement.

“I know based on absolutely rock-solid intelligence that this is Hezbollah and [that] this is something that Iran knows about very, very well,” the prime minister said.

Asked if he could give any hard evidence linking Wednesday’s bombing at Bulgaria’s Burgas airport with Hezbollah, Netanyahu said his government would share its intelligence with “friendly agencies.” Netanyahu told the CBS news program “Face the Nation” that Israel had “unquestionable, fully substantiated intelligence that this was done by Hezbollah, backed by Iran.”

The attack in Bulgaria followed the arrest of a man suspected of plotting an attack on Israeli tourists last week in Cyprus with the same “modus operandi,” said Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s office quoted Israeli intelligence chiefs as saying that Iran and Hezbollah had “endeavored to carry out terrorist attacks in more than 20 countries over the past two years.” The statement did not elaborate on those allegations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 23, 2012, on page 1.




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