Israeli intelligence ‘critical’ in US case for strikes on Syria

Regional map of SyriaBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
As the United States prepares to make its case in support of military action against the Syrian government, there are reports that Israeli intelligence will be playing “a central role in cementing” Washington’s argument. The White House indicated this week that it is prepared to launch military strikes against Syrian government targets, following reports that chemical weapons were fired at a Damascus suburb. Western intelligence sources suggest that last week’s chemical weapon strikes killed “hundreds of people” and wounded “at least a thousand”, including many civilians. Interestingly, while the US administration of President Barack Obama is collating the evidence of the Syrian government’s complicity in the attacks, reports from Israel have identified even the Syrian Army unit that allegedly fired the chemical rounds. Late last week, Israel’s Channel 2 claimed that the attack was launched by the 155th Brigade of the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, which is known to be commanded by Maher al-Assad, brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. German media reports suggest that the source of the claim was Unit 8200, the electronic interception division of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). It is believed that the IDF has in its possession intercepted conversations between senior Syrian military commanders allegedly discussing last week’s chemical attack. Most analysts appear confident that Israel would play no visible part in a possible US-led military strike on Syria. But many senior Israeli cabinet ministers are voicing strong support for direct Western military involvement in the Syrian civil war. On Tuesday, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s Economy and Commerce Minister, said the time for intervention had come: “it cannot be that less than 100 kilometers from Israel, children are being gassed to death and we let the world remain silent and ignore it”, he told reporters. Bennett was speaking ahead of a meeting —the second in two days— of Israel’s security cabinet, which was called by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to discuss the implications for Israel of a US military strike on Syria. Meanwhile, several senior members of Israel’s intelligence and security establishment are in Washington for meetings with Obama administration officials. They include Nimrod Sheffer, head of the IDF’s Directorate of Planning, General Itai Brun, chief of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Research, National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, and Major General Amos Gilad, of the Israeli Defense Ministry. On Monday, the White House issued a statement effectively denying that the Israeli delegation is in Washington to discuss Syria. The statement said that the Israelis’ visit is “part of a series of regular discussions within the framework of the good relations between the two countries”.

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