Syria still has chemical weapons, Mattis, Israeli defense officials say
TEL AVIV, Israel — Syria still possesses chemical weapons, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in Israel on Friday, warning against the banned munitions being used again.
At a news conference in Tel Aviv, Mr. Mattis also said that in recent days the Syrian Air Force has dispersed its combat aircraft. The implication is that Syria may be concerned about additional U.S. strikes following the cruise missile attack this month in retaliation for alleged Syrian use of sarin gas.
Mr. Mattis spoke alongside Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. “There can be no doubt in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all,” Mr. Mattis said, adding that he didn’t want to elaborate on the amounts Syria has in order to avoid revealing sources of intelligence.
“I can say authoritatively they have retained some, it’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically. They would be ill-advised to try to use any again. We made that very clear with our strike,” he said.
Israeli defense officials said this week that Syria has up to 3 tons of chemical weapons. It was the first specific intelligence assessment of President Bashar Assad’s weapons capabilities since the deadly chemical attack this month. Mr. Lieberman also refused to go into detail but said, “We have 100 percent information that [the] Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebels.”
Mr. Assad has denied he was behind the attack and accused the opposition of trying to frame his government. Russia, an Assad ally, has asserted a Syrian government airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons factory, causing the disaster.
In response to the April 4 attack, the U.S. fired 59 missiles at a Syrian air base it said was the launching pad for the attack.
Before meeting with Mr. Mattis in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters that Israel is encouraged by the change of administrations in Washington, citing the U.S. missile strike in Syria.