Israeli commandos have been quietly deployed to Syria to track the status of Bashar Assad's arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday, citing other news organizations.
The Syrian military in recent days was reported to be preparing sarin nerve agent and loading the material into aerial bombs. No word has come yet, however, of an official order to use the chemical weapons against Syrian opposition forces, which have steadily been gaining ground against forces loyal to Damascus. The Syrian regime has repeatedly declared it would not use chemical weapons against rebel forces.
Deployed Israeli commandos are "part of a secret war" to monitor Syrian biological and chemical arms elements and to "sabotage their development," according to the Sunday Times. The United Kingdom and the United States have also positioned their own special forces for potential intervention should Damascus carry out chemical attacks, the Times of London reported on Wednesday.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon in an interview with Israel Radio indicated that Tel Aviv might act unilaterally if it perceives an imminent danger from Syria's unconventional weapons, Reuters reported. "On these matters, we have to be prepared to protect ourselves, by ourselves," he said, continuing, "At this time, we see no sign that this weaponry is being pointed at us."
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is readying to potentially deploy personnel to the edge of Syria's territory upon request by another country in the region, OPCW Deputy Director General Grace Asirwatham said on Monday.
"We have intensified our capacity," Asirwatham told Reuters. "We are in preparedness."
The official said the organization is "following the situation and [is] also concerned about the situation."
"However, we cannot go into the country because we don't have a mandate to do so," she said. The Hague, Netherlands-based agency monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. Syria has not joined the accord that prohibits the development, production, stockpiling or use of chemical warfare materials.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Sunday said he had viewed "some evidence" that the Syrian military is readying chemical arms for use against opposition forces, Asian News International reported. He did not describe the nature of the intelligence, which has reportedly also been viewed by the United States.
An anonymous U.S. official told CNN that "satellite imagery showed the movement of trucks and vehicles at sites where chemicals and weapons were stored," the London Guardian summarized from the report. "We assume the aircraft are in close proximity to the munitions," the official said.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Saturday said opposition forces "may resort to using chemical weapons against the Syrian people ... after having gained control of a toxic chlorine factory" to the east of Aleppo, Agence France-Presse reported.
Washington and friendly European governments have hired private security personnel to instruct Syrian opposition forces in how to safely gain control of Damascus' chemical warfare materials, multiple high-ranking envoys and a high-ranking U.S. official informed CNN on Sunday.
The instruction in how to track, gain control of, and safely manage arms depots and sensitive chemical materials is taking place in Turkey and Jordan. Some private contractors are inside Syria assisting opposition forces in keeping tabs on the chemical facilities, one source said.
In statements last week, the Obama administration indicated its "red line" for an intervention in Syria would be if Damascus actually uses its chemical weapons or if it attempts to proliferate them to local extremist organizations. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) on Friday argued that the United States should decisively act against Damascus "if we can say with even a moderate degree of certainty that these weapons have been prepared and are put in an arsenal for use," Foreign Policy reported.