Speaking at a news conference in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Friday, Secretary of Defense James Mattis declared Syria has unquestionably retained chemical weapons stockpiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and warned dictator Bashar Assad not to use them again.
“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,” said Mattis.
“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 and they would be ill advised to try to use any again, we made that very clear with our strike,” he added.
The Associated Press notes that Mattis did not specify the size of Syria’s illegal chemical arsenal, but Israeli defense officials said this week that Syria has retained up to three tons of such weapons.
“The amount of it I don’t want to get into it right now. We don’t reveal some of that detail because we don’t want to reveal how we’re finding out. But the bottom line is that I can say authoritatively that they have retained some,” said the Secretary of Defense.
“We have 100 percent information that Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebels,” said Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, appearing at the press conference with Mattis.
During his trip to Israel, Mattis met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said Israel senses “a great change in the direction of American policy” and praised President Trump’s “forthright deeds” after the chemical weapons attack in Syria.
“This is a welcome change, a strategic change of American leadership and policy,” Netanyahu said after meeting with Mattis. He also expressed his approval on social media:
With US Secretary of Defense James Mattis. Israel has no better friend than America. America has no better friend than Israel. 🇱🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/rYeiuQi8Ol
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) April 21, 2017
At his press conference with Lieberman, Mattis said there was “no doubt” the Syrians have “dispersed their aircraft in recent days.”
There have been reports of Syrian warplanes being relocated to the Bassel al-Assad International Airport, which is located near the Khmeimim Russian airbase in Latakia.
Some U.S. officials believe almost all of Syria’s military aircraft have been relocated into close proximity with the Russian base to make it harder for U.S. missile strikes to wipe out the Syrian air force. In addition to presumed American reluctance to launch an attack that might hit Russian planes, Khmeimim is protected by advanced Russian anti-aircraft systems.