Jerusalem: A former Israeli defense minister alleged on Monday that Syria's chemical weapons are "trickling" to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah. It was the first such claim by a senior politician in Israel, but he did not supply evidence to support his assertion.
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, a retired general who is now a lawmaker from the opposition Labor party, told The Associated Press: "The process of weapon transferal to Hezbollah has begun."
He told Israel Radio that he "has no doubt" that Syrian President Bashar Assad has already used chemical weapons and that that "these weapons are trickling to Hezbollah."
His statement on chemical weapons reaching Hezbollah did not represent an official assessment, and Israeli defence officials sought to distance themselves from Ben-Eliezer's allegation.
They said that while Israeli officials are deeply concerned about such weapons reaching Hezbollah, they have not seen evidence that this has occurred. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing a confidential intelligence assessment and were not authorised to brief reporters.
Israel has repeatedly expressed concern that Syria's chemical arsenal could fall into the hands of anti-Israel militants like Hezbollah, an Assad ally, or an al Qaeda-linked group fighting with the rebels. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that militants' acquisition of chemical arms or other sophisticated weapons is could trigger military action.
Israel is widely believed to have carried out an airstrike in Syria early this year on a shipment of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles allegedly bound for Hezbollah. Israel has all but confirmed it carried out the attack.
Although Assad is a bitter enemy, Israel has been careful not to take sides in Syria's civil war, partly because the Assad family has kept the border with Israel quiet for the past 40 years and because of concerns of what would happen if he is overthrown.
Israeli military officials believe some Syrian opposition groups, especially those affiliated with the al Qaeda terror group, will turn their focus toward Israel if Assad is ousted.
Ben-Eliezer said he is "amazed by the silence of the world" and that the international community needs to intervene to end the high civilian death toll in Syria's civil war. He said Israel should consider action if there is no international intervention.