Israelis stock up on gas masks amid fears of Syrian strikes
Military steps up preparations for a possible attack from the north
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (centre) attending a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem yesterday. Mr Netanyahu said yesterday chemical weapons use in Syria could not be tolerated. Photograph: Dan Balilty/Reuters
Demand for gas masks soared in Israel yesterday amid fears that Syria or its regional allies, such as Hizbullah in Lebanon, may target Israel in response to an expected US strike against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
Post offices where gas masks are distributed reported a fourfold increase in people collecting kits, with many talking of a real fear of an imminent Syrian attack.
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to allay public concern, saying that Israel “will always know how to protect our citizens” should Syrian weapons be turned on the Jewish state.
“Our hand is always on the pulse,” he said. “Our finger is a responsible one and, if needed, is on the trigger. We will always know how to protect our citizens and our country against those who come to injure us or try to attack us.”
The military stepped up preparations for a possible attack from the north as defence officials discussed possible scenarios over the weekend.
The assessment in Jerusalem was that Syria would be unlikely to order a retaliatory attack on Israel in response to US action. Such a scenario would give Israel a pretext to target Dr Assad’s strategic military assets, such as his surface-to-surface missiles, chemical weapons sites and, primarily, advanced anti-aircraft missile components delivered by Russia in recent years.
However, Middle East leaders do not always act rationally, and any scenario is possible if Dr Assad fears his back is to the wall.
As an indication of the sensitivity of the issue, ministers were ordered not to comment about Syria without prior approval from the prime minister’s office.
Mr Netanyahu, with one eye on Iran’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons, said there were three conclusions to be drawn from Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
“One, the situation can’t continue. Two, the most dangerous regimes in the world can’t possess the most dangerous weapons in the world. Three, of course we expect the situation to stop, but we remember the ancient principle of the sages, ‘If we are not for ourselves, who will be for us?’”
Intelligence minister Yuval Steinitz said the US would inform Israel ahead of a strike against Syria but Israeli defence forces should be prepared.
“We have to be ready in terms of both our defensive options and our offensive ones.”
Israeli president Shimon Peres called for a concentrated international effort to “take out” Syrian’s chemical weapons.
“The moral call is superior to any strategic considerations,” he said, so “the time has come for a joint effort to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. They cannot remain there in the hands of Assad or others.”