Israeli Chief of Staff Benny Gantz with Defense Minister Ehud Barak in the Golan Heights
Syria has the "biggest chemical weapons arsenal in the world," which it could use to threaten the Jewish state, Israel's deputy chief of the general staff has warned.
"Syria has built up the biggest chemical weapons arsenal in the world and has missiles and rockets capable of reaching any part of Israeli territory," Major General Yair Naveh said in remarks delivered Sunday night and carried on Israeli military radio on Monday.
Naveh pointed to the deadly crackdown on anti-government protesters being waged by President Bashar al-Assad and his forces, saying it was proof that Syria would show no restraint in any attack on Israel.
"The Syrians who treat their people that way will do the same to us if they have the opportunity," he said.
Israel has been raising the alarm for months over Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, with the head of the army's northern command warning they could end up in the hands of Hezbollah, Lebanon's Shiite militia group.
Israeli military analysts say Syria has spent the past 40 years producing sarin and nerve gas, as well as mustard gas, which can be used in missiles.
And earlier this month, chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz told MPs that the unrest in Syria was affecting stability on the strategic Golan Heights plateau, half of which is held by Syria while the other half is occupied by Israel.
"In the Golan Heights, there is an instability developing that is on the rise, as a result of events in Syria, including in the zone adjacent to the border," Gantz told the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defence.
"The incidents have not reached the level of terror activity, but could get there," he said in remarks quoted by a spokesman.
Israel is still technically at war with Syria, but the armistice line that separates the neighbours has been largely quiet in recent years, leading some observers to suggest that Assad's fall could be bad for the Jewish state.
But in recent months, after initially declining to make public comment, Israeli leaders have condemned Assad's crackdown, saying it is only a matter of time before he is ousted.