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Israeli intel agencies assess Syria chemical threat still remains: report

Syrian soldiers inspect the wreckage of a research centre north of Damascus during a government tour on April 14, 2018

Israeli intelligence agencies believe that a US-led strike on Syrian chemical weapons facilities earlier this week has not completely eliminated President Bashar Assad's ability to launch future chemical attacks, the Ynet news site reported Tuesday.

The report cited officials in Israel's defense and intelligence establishments as estimating that the joint operation launched by the US, Britain, and France on Friday resulted in "only partial damage...to [Syria's] chemical weapons stockpiles and launch capabilities."

Israeli intelligence officials further believe that the strikes have not deterred Assad from using chemical weapons in the future, given Trump's vow to pull US troops out of Syria as soon as possible and comments from other American officials that there were no further strikes being planned at the moment.

"If [US President Donald] Trump had ordered the strike only to show that the US responded to Assad's use of chemical weapons, then that goal has been achieved," Ynet quoted a senior defense establishment official as saying.

"But if there was another objective, such as paralyzing the ability to launch chemical weapons or deterring Assad from using it again, it's doubtful any of these objectives have been met," the unnamed official added.

- (ECPAD/AFP/File)

Another intelligence official was quoted as saying that Trump's declaration of "Mission Accomplished" or the assertion that the strikes dealt a fatal blow to Assad's ability to use chemical weapons "have no basis".

Following the strike, which saw a barrage of 105 missiles launched towards three chemical weapons facilities in Syria, the Pentagon did acknowledge that the operation had not totally eliminated the possibility of future chemical attacks.

The Pentagon said that the operation would “set the Syrian chemical weapons program back for years,” but acknowledged that a "residual element" remained.

“I'm not going to say that they're going to be unable to conduct a chemical attack in the future. I suspect, however, they'll think long and hard about it," Gen. Kenneth McKenzie said on Saturday during a press briefing at the Pentagon.

Handout (Cnes 2017, Distribution Airbus DS/AFP/File)

According to the Ynet report, Israeli officials estimate that Syria was able to retain between five to ten percent of its chemical weapons stockpile after it reluctantly signed on to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 under pressure from Moscow after being accused of an attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds.

Despite being bound by the accord to relinquish all of its chemical weapons, Israel assesses that such weapons have been used in at least 100 cases since 2013.

Israeli intelligence officials point to the fact that no major chemical leaks were reported following the strikes as evidence that major hidden stockpiles were not hit in the strike, Ynet reported.

The US-led strike came in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack a week ago on the rebel-held town of Douma that left more than 40 people dead.

Both the Assad regime and its ally Russia have denied all responsibility for the April 7 attack in Douma, in which Washington believes both sarin and chlorine were used.


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