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Speak no evil: Netanyahu orders Israeli ministers to ‘remain silent’ on Syria

Published time: April 28, 2013 18:43
Edited time: April 28, 2013 20:51
Benjamin Netanyahu (Reuters / Sebastian Scheiner / Pool)

Benjamin Netanyahu (Reuters / Sebastian Scheiner / Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered his ministers to cease making public comments on the civil conflict in Syria, especially reports regarding the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian government forces, Israeli media said.

Netanyahu’s instruction follows comments made by deputy foreign minister Ze’ev Elkin on Army radio Friday, in which the official appeared to call on the international community to intervene in Syria in order to contain and neutralize the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

“It is clear that if the United States wants to and the international community wants to, they could act militarily, among other things, to take control of the chemical weapons, and then all the fears … will not be relevant,” The Times of Israel cites Elkin as saying.

Army Radio reported Sunday that Netanyahu wanted to clarify that Elkin’s statements did not reflect an attempt on Israel’s part to spur the United States to intervene militarily in Syria.

However, the military radio political commentator also expressed fears within Israel regarding recent “US hesitancy over the Syrian issue.”

"If (US President) Barack Obama does not respect the red lines that he set out himself and does not intervene when Bashar Assad uses chemical weapons against civilians, it is showing weaknesses that could cost it dearly later in Syria, but also in the Iranian nuclear question,"
AFP cites the commentator as saying.

The commentator’s charge echoes statements made by Elkin, who warned that a lack of resoluteness in Washington would bolster the Islamic Republic’s alleged efforts to covertly enrich weapons-grade uranium.

WMD charge ‘a barefaced lie’


On Thursday, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the US intelligence community has determined “with varying degrees of confidence” that “Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces have used the nerve agent sarin against civilians and forces fighting to remove Assad from power.”

Hagel continued that deploying chemical weapons “violates every convention of warfare.”

Reuters / Hamid Khatib

US Secretary of State John Kerry was more equivocal, saying the Syrian government had launched two chemical weapons attacks.

Their statements followed a public declaration on Thursday by Brigadier-General Itai Brun, a top Israeli intelligence analyst, who said that Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons in their fight against anti-Assad forces.

Speaking with Netanyahu on Tuesday, Kerry said the Israeli PM was unable to confirm the veracity of Brun’s comments.

However, Syrian information minister Omran Ahed Zouabi told RT that statements made Kerry and other Western governments regarding Syria’s alleged deployment of chemical weapons

“are inconsistent with reality and a barefaced lie.”  “I want to stress one more time that Syria would never use it - not only because of its adherence to the international law and rules of leading war, but because of humanitarian and moral issues,” he continued.

Awaiting ‘definitive judgment’


On Saturday, President Vladmir Putin's Middle East envoy Mikhail Bogdanov warned any evidence proving Damascus had used chemical weapons should “be presented immediately”.

“We must check the information immediately and in conformity with international criteria and not use it to achieve other objectives. It must not be a pretext for an intervention in Syria,” Bogdanov continued.

On Friday, Obama warned that for “the Syrian government to utilize chemical weapons on its people crosses a line that will change my calculus and how the United States approaches these issues.”

However, he has thus far stated that the most recent developments would not necessarily incite military action, as Washington was awaiting a “definitive judgment” before the US decided to act.

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