IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz - Michal Fattal
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Photo by Michal Fattal
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Two days ago Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz injected a dose of sobriety into the public debate about Syria's stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. In Israel, in the region and all over the world there is a fear that the disintegration of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is weakening control over strategic war materiel. Senior politicians publicly signaled their willingness to attack these stockpiles of weapons if they find their way to Hezbollah or worldwide jihad organizations.

The warnings were designed to deter these groups and reassure the Israeli public. There's nothing basically wrong with that, but the intensity of the warnings is liable to push the Israeli government into a too-rigid commitment. Gantz, who is in charge of the professional echelon that is responsible for intelligence surveillance of events in Syria, as well as for preparing an operational solution for the problems developing there, has presented the picture in all its aspects.

His main argument is that Israel "is liable to find itself in a wider conflict than it planned" if it takes military action in Syria. According to Gantz, a military operation is liable to be too narrowly focused, or, alternatively, to lead to a widespread confrontation. If the IDF tries to focus on specific, definite targets, it is liable to miss other targets. If it chooses overly broad security margins and harms the surroundings of the targets, including the civilian population, that could be an excuse for a Syrian attack, even with chemical weapons - as could be understood from the declarations of the Assad regime spokesmen - or an attack by Hezbollah.

Another consideration mentioned by the chief of staff: Anyone who attacks the stockpile of weapons of mass destruction has no way of knowing what will happen to the target. Will it be destroyed, cause environmental damage, or more easily end up in the hands of hostile elements who are not necessarily those who were in possession of it at the time of the attack?

Changes in the Syrian situation are coming rapidly: What was true last week may no longer be true now. Above all, lofty words must not be allowed to tie the hands of the decision-makers. The test of the IDF sometimes means engaging in action and sometimes refraining from action. In the frenetic atmosphere surrounding Israel's political leadership, Gantz's measured voice has an important contribution to make.