JERUSALEM — Fears of an escalation of violence between Israel and Syria grew Sunday with renewed Israeli threats to destroy Syrian weapons caches and Syria’s warnings of retaliation.
After decades of relative calm, some Israeli officials say tensions with Syria are among the highest since the 1973 Yom Kippur war.
During a Cabinet meeting Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue to act to prevent Syria’s advanced weapons from falling into the hands of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah or other organizations deemed to be terrorists.
“The Middle East is in one of its most sensitive periods in decades with the escalating upheaval in Syria,” Netanyahu said. “We are monitoring the changes there closely and are prepared for any scenario.”
Israel has been accused of launching three airstrikes this year against Syrian weapons stockpiles and convoys, though officially the Israeli government has not acknowledged its responsibility.
But Israeli officials have said repeatedly they will not hesitate to attack if they fear that weapons, including chemical stockpiles, would fall into the wrong hands.
In response, Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose regime did not retaliate for the previous three attacks, has signaled that he will not tolerate a fourth.
His government has reportedly trained advanced surface-to-surface missiles on the Israeli city of Tel Aviv, with instructions to fire in the event of another Israeli attack, according to information from reconnaissance satellite imagery reported Sunday by the Times of London.
Over the weekend, Assad accused Israel of helping the rebels.
Russia, which has maintained strong ties to the Assad regime, also made a strong statement of support last week, vowing to proceed with the sale of air-defense missiles to Syria despite a personal appeal from Netanyahu. Israel fears that such weapons would hinder its ability to launch air strikes over Syria and Lebanon.