Israeli military intel chief traveling to Washington

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IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi is traveling to Washington for consultations with American officials, defense sources told Al-Monitor.

Israeli officials declined to confirm the focus of his visit, but it comes amid signs of heightened Israeli concern about Syria.

“Hezbollah has set up several bases in Syria, near known locations where Syrian President Bashar Assad is holding parts of his chemical warfare arsenal,” Ynet’s Ron Ben-Yishai reported Monday.

Netanyahu “recently held a number of security assessments focusing on the developments in the war-torn country,” the Ynet report said. “Israel’s defense establishment has been holding similar assessments, focused on the potential shift in the balance of power between the IDF and Hezbollah, in the event that the latter would get hold of Assad’s WMDs.”

Netanyahu spoke by phone with President Obama on Monday, following a meeting Sunday with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro.

Netanyahu also dispatched his National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror to Moscow, reportedly to seek Russian help in averting various Syrian contingencies.

On Sunday, Israel deployed two Iron Dome batteries in northern Israel, including Haifa, Israeli reports said. The systems are designed to intercept medium-range rockets, such as Scud missiles, which Hezbollah is thought to have in its arsenal. UN observers that had been monitoring Syria’s border with Israel, near the Golan Heights, have pulled out of southern Syria in recent months amid the fighting there, David Schenker, of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said.

However, some Israeli media on Tuesday questioned whether the situation in Syria had changed that much in the past two weeks to warrant the sense of security crisis. “Netanyahu is sowing fear and terror similar to the way he did on the Iranian issue last year,” Maariv’s Eli Bardenstein cited an unnamed European diplomat Tuesday. “It’s [an act of] self-frightening.”

American officials have not indicated any notable sense of newly heightened alarm about Syria’s chemical arsenal in recent days.

“We have made clear that we are engaged in all manner of contingency planning with not only Syria’s neighbors but with countries throughout the international community who have expertise in dealing with these weapons,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists at the State Department Monday.

Pentagon officials said they were still working to answer a query about who Kochavi was seeing in the department. Israel does not regularly announce the travel of IDF and intelligence officials.