Israel backs Russian chemical weapons plan for Syria
Israeli soldiers walk by an "Iron Dome" battery, a short-range missile defence system in Jerusalem. An Israeli official said Thursday that he supports the Russian plan that seeks to destroy Syria's chemical weapons. (AFP)
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A senior Israeli official, close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Thursday pledged cautious support for the plan to place Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles under international control.
"I cannot say that we have full faith, but if this Russian proposal ... will really remove the chemical weaponry from Syria, first of all, and will then dismantle it ... then this is a way to end this tragedy and a way to end this threat too," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said, according to Reuters.
Making his comments on Israel's Army Radio, Steinitz said the plan must include a guarantee that Moscow pledges that "Syria is cleansed of chemical weaponry," Reuters reported.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to meet in Geneva on Thursday to agree on a strategy that might eliminate Syria's chemical agents.
Wary of inciting a backlash in the region, Israel has largely avoided speaking publicly about the Syrian crisis since it began to escalate in August when forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad allegedly used chemical weapons on Damascus.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu demanded that the Syrian regime be "stripped of its chemical weapons" but did not explicitly endorse the Russia proposal, which was accepted by Damascus earlier this week.
Steinitz's remarks on Thursday suggested that Israel would want any consensual decommissioning of Syria's chemical arsenal to be expedited by sending it abroad first, according to Reuters.
Former counter-proliferation official with Israel's Defense Ministry, David Friedman, told Reuters that neutralizing Syria's chemical weapons could take up to two years, but the process could be speeded up should they be destroyed in Russia, which is better equipped with chemical counter-agents and incinerators.