Netanyahu: Israel will respond forcefully if Syria attacks
PM says Israel prepared for any scenario; senior U.S. officials tell NBC a U.S. strike may be launched as early as Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel would respond with force to any attack from Syria, as Western powers were preparing for possible military action over the alleged use of chemical weapons in the embattled country.
Following security consultations with Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, the Prime Minister's Office released a statements smphasizing that that it was referring to attempts made by both the Syrian government and other forces.
"We are prepared for any scenario," Netanyahu said in the statement. "We are not part of the civil war in Syria, but if we identify any attempt to harm us we will respond, and respond forcefully."
Netanyahu convened the members of the political-security cabinet for a special meeting on Syria on Tuesday morning, but canceled it for an unknown reason and held a smaller consultation instead.
The last time the cabinet discussed the situation in Syria was Sunday, when ministers were briefed on a possible U.S. strike. A senior Israeli official said the main conclusion from the meeting was that Israel "should maintain a low profile" and not get dragged into the events in Syria. The official added that Sunday's discussion focused on various possible escalations following a potential U.S. strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad that would force Israel into the Syrian theater.
"The security establishment's assessment is that the probability of a Syrian response against Israel after a U.S. strike is low," the official said. "However, when something like this begins you don't know how it could develop and so you must be ready and set your policy in advance."
However, Iranian news agency Fars quoted an unnamed Syrian military source that warned, "Israel will also be set on fire" if the West attacks. Syria will target Tel Aviv in retaliation, the military source said.
Also on Tuesday, senior U.S. officials told NBC that a U.S. strike against Syria could be launched as early as Thursday. They said the bombing campaign may last three days, and would be limited in scope.
Meanwhile, the Arab League blamed the Syrian government for last week's alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds, calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
In an emergency meeting held Tuesday, the Arab League also called on members of the UN Security Council to overcome their differences and agree on "deterrent" measures against those who committed "this heinous crime." The League said it will convene a meeting at the ministerial level next week to follow up on the situation in Syria.
Earlier on Tuesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a television interview with the BBC that the U.S. military is ready to act immediately should U.S. President Barack Obama order action against Syria.