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Israel says it's not pushing for intervention in Syria, despite chemical weapons claims

JERUSALEM — The Israeli intelligence and strategic affairs minister said on Sunday that Israel was not urging the United States to intervene militarily in Syria, despite recent intelligence reports that pointed to possible use of chemical weapons.

"We never asked, nor did we encourage, the United States to take military action in Syria," the minister, Yuval Steinitz, said at a conference in New York.

Israel's diplomatic-security cabinet reportedly held a meeting on Sunday for four hours, focusing on the situation in Syria. It was the first such discussion since the new government was formed, and could have been held to ensure all the senior ministers were up-to-date on Israel's decision.

Asked if he had any comments to make about the special session of the security cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev said, "I am not even confirming it took place."

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There appears to be significant disagreement among various intelligence bodies about the degree of danger Syria poses to Israel itself, and what possible actions should be.

In Hebrew, the military analyst for Ma'ariv, Israel's second best selling newspaper, said that one of Israel's intelligence bodies believes Assad's fall will diminish the nuclear threat from Iran, whereas, another Israeli intelligence agency is more concerned about stability along the Golan border, which it believes will no longer be secure after Assad's fall.

"These are not intelligence estimates," one anonymous official told Haaretz, "rather proof, and even more than proof. There is substantial material about the use of chemical weapons by Assad's army. It is known to all intelligence agencies. All intelligence elements have been updated. No one has any doubts on the matter."

More from GlobalPost: Syria uses chemical weapons against rebels, Israel says

Illustrating further division on the Syrian issue, a former Israeli defense minister on Monday called for international intervention in Syria. Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told The Associated Pressthat chemical weapons were "trickling" from Syria to Hezbollah, the militant group in Lebanon.

Ben-Eliezer told Israel Radio that he had "no doubt" that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was using chemical weapons. He told the AP, "The process of weapon transferal to Hezbollah has begun."

While most Israelis keep repeating that Israel has no interests in the Syrian civil war, former Mossad head Meir Dagan said that for both moral and strategic reasons, Israel should “do whatever it can to make sure that Syrian President Bashar Assad is removed from power.”

Meanwhile, the United States has called for a thorough investigation led by the United Nations into reports of chemical weapons use in Syria. British Prime Minister David Cameron said last week that it was likely chemical weapons were being used in the country.

However, Haaretz reported that the British government is now "less eager" to arm Syrian rebels after the latest intelligence reports indicate that Jihadist groups with links to Al Qaeda may have taken over major sections of the rebels.

"They are beginning to realize just how dangerous more arms in the hands of the Jihadists could be. They understand now that Syria is becoming a black hole and we should be very careful about any other weapons getting sucked in there," said one diplomat.

As an indication of the level of alertness in Israel, the Israel Defense Forces tweeted on Monday:

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