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IDF Chief: Syria Intervention Could Lead to Regional War

IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz warned lawmakers that a misstep by Israel in securing Syria's chemical weapons could backfire
By Gabe Kahn
First Publish: 7/24/2012, 10:01 PM

Gantz with officers
Gantz with officers
IDF Spokesman's Unit

IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz warned the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that a misstep by Israel in moving to secure Syria's chemical weapons could lead to a wide-scale regional war.

Gantz stressed to lawmakers that the embattled regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad still has a firm grip on its stores of unconventional weapons.

“They [Syrian military forces ] are guarding it and have even increased security so it will not fall into rogue hands although this does not mean it will stay that way,” Gantz said. “We need to take into consideration what will remain after we act and whose hands it will fall into.”

Gantz, who pointedly told lawmakers choosing the correct moment to act would be key to a successful move to secure Syria's chemical weapons, spoke before the committee as senior Israeli officials threaten war should Hizbullah obtain Assad's unconventional weapons.

Gantz said that ongoing Syrian military defections were “feeding” the rebellion and were having a negative impact on the Syrian military. 

“It is not just that they do not have commanders but it will also impact the soldiers’ performance over time,” he said.

Syria's largest rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, is comprised of some 30,000 army defectors commanded by dissident officers who have fled to neighboring Turkey.

FSA commanders in Syria late Monday charged Damascus had moved its chemical weapons stories to airports near its borders. The claim came just one day after the Assad regime threatened to use unconventional weapons if faced with outside intervention.

However, senior FSA commanders in Turkey told reporters they were training a special unit of fighters to seize Syria's chemical weapons, which they say remain in two secure facilities.

Meanwhile, US president Barack Obama directly warned Syria on Monday that the world was watching and that there would be consequences should Damacus employ chemical weapons. The American leader spoke just hours after the Pentagon issued a similar warning.

International concerns of Syria's unconventional weapons come as the embattled Assad regime fights pitched and deadly battles with rebels in the capital of Damascus and key city of Aleppo.

Over the weekend Syria used helicopter gunships in the two cities to hold the line as forces loyal to Assad find themselves unable to dislodge rebels from cities that once served as impregnable bastions of power.

The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights estimates at least 19,000 people - most of them civilians - have been killed in Syria's now 16-month long Arab Spring revolt.