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Middle East

Israel poised to react to Syria fallout

The Israeli government won't specify whether it is considering action against Syria after the recent alleged chemical attack. It is, however, poised to deal with the potential fallout if the US decides to intervene.

Ten-year-old Hadas Beangio is with her mother and four siblings today at a shopping mall in Jerusalem in a mad scramble of people queuing for gas masks after the recent alleged chemical attack on Syrians.

Her mother Sigalit Beangio says that after talking to her husband she decided to get masks to protect her family of seven against any chemical attack in Israel.

The fear of either Syria launching a similar chemical attack on Israel, or turning its attention on the Jewish state if the United States launches an attack is very real.

Sigalit Beangio believes something needs to be done about Syria but she's not sure what. "The US has to do something, if they don't it will be something like a holocaust."

Scott Young, 57, from Alexandria, Virginia has lived in Jerusalem for two years and was among those queuing for a mask.

"I don't think the Syrians will necessarily attack us, but I want to have a mask in case something does happen. It's better to be safe than sorry," he said.

Hadas Beangio, 10, tries on a gas mask at a distribution centre at a central Jerusalem shopping mall. Copyright: Kate Shuttleworth, DW Mitarbeiterin, Jerusalem, August 2013

Preparing for the worst-case scenario: Hadas Beangio, 10, tries on a gas mask at a Jerusalem shopping mall

Weighing up the options

Western countries are weighing up military action against Syria in response to the alleged attack, which is believed to have killed hundreds near Damascus last week. The White House is in advanced preparations over a potential surgical military strike, while Israel is weighing up the risks intervention could have of triggering a wave of terrorism directed at Israel and the US.

People in Israel are worried that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has been embroiled in a two-and-a-half year uprising against his rule, could lash out at the Jewish state.

Some people queuing at distribution centers and post offices across Israel this week to get the gas masks were in a state of near frenzy after media coverage suggested an attack could turn on Israel.

Maya Avishai, spokeswoman for the Israeli Postal Service which coordinates the distribution of gas masks on behalf of the military, said the number of people who had queued at distribution centers and phoned for masks had increased four-fold this week.

Six out of 10 people in Israel are equipped with the masks, but still only five million of Israel's eight million population are prepared with the necessary gear to cope with a chemical or biological attack, which the government began handing out during the 1991 Gulf War.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his cabinet meeting at the beginning of the week that the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons should not be allowed to continue.

Finger on the pulse

"Our finger must always be on the pulse. Ours is a responsible finger and if necessary, it will also be on the trigger. We will always know to defend our people and our state against whoever attacks us, tries to attack us or has attacked us. This is the principle that has consistently and responsibly guided this government," Netanyahu said.

He also warned of Iran's involvement. "Syria has become Iran's testing ground, and Iran is closely watching whether and how the world responds to the atrocities committed by Iran's client state, Syria, and by Iran's proxy Hezbollah against innocent civilians in Syria. What is happening in Syria, simply demonstrates what will happen if Iran gets even deadlier weapons. I think the situation in Syria also exposes another truth, and that is that there is something very deep and very broad in the turmoil in the Middle East."

A sculpture of an Israeli soldier standing guard is seen next to a sign for tourists showing the different distances to Jerusalem, Baghdad, Damascus and other locations, at an army post in Mount Bental in the annexed Golan Heights on January 31, 2013. (Photo credit JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

An already volatile region could turn into a powder keg

Decisive reaction

Israel's Minister for Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz went further, saying Israel was prepared to "act decisively" to protect itself in the event of an attack by the Syrian regime on the Jewish state, without giving any indication of the nature of Israel's possible response.

"It would be insane for somebody to try to provoke Israel. But of course we are prepared for any scenario whatsoever … This is the most unpredictable neighborhood in the region."

Steinitz has accused Assad of using chemical weapons before and has labeled the UN's efforts to investigate the alleged chemical weapons attacks "a joke."

"To investigate now the allegations of chemical weapons used half a year ago and year ago, without moving to check what happened last week, this is absurd."

Israel has accused Assad of deploying chemical weapons in the past and is concerned the chemical weapons could end up in the hands of anti-Israel militants.

Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon echoed his cabinet minister's comments saying the use of chemical weapons by Syria was "not for the first time."

'Life and death struggle'

He told reporters that the civil war in Syria, which he said had claimed the lives of over 100,000 people, was "a life and death struggle between a regime representing the Alawite minority and a disunited opposition."

Israeli military analyst Alex Fishman, who contributes to Israel's leading daily Yedioth Ahdonoth, wrote that US intervention in Syria was almost inevitable, while any retaliation by Syria on Israel was possible, but not inevitable.

"While the likelihood of Syria taking action against Israel if attacked by the United States is not high, in the Middle East … logic isn't always the governing principle. If Syria's national honor is tarnished as a result of an American attack, the Syrians' reaction is liable to be irrational."

"We can only hope that if the Americans decide to attack that they will give us a few hours' advance notice so that we can prepare for the possibility that the Syrians might go crazy," he wrote.

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