Though they officially won’t even acknowledge that the strikes took place, recent Israeli attacks on Syria have been done with hushed tones surrounding the prospect of Hezbollah acquiring hugely powerful offensive weapons from the Assad government’s arsenal, and chemical weapons are usually at least implicitly included in the fretting.
The reality is much different, however, and reports that the targeted weapons supposedly ear-marked for Hezbollah were anti-aircraft and defensive weapons don’t make sense in the context of Israel’s official statements on the matter. Yet analysts say that defensive weapons very much are the target, and it stems from Israel’s constant expectations of an imminent region-wide war.
Though Israel hasn’t fought a major regional war since 1967, their political leadership is always playing to fears of the entire Arab world united in an effort to drive them into the sea. The reality is that Israeli military leadership has been taught to expect major attacks, and in this case it spans the Shi’ite world, with an assumption that they will be fighting a multi-front war with Hezbollah, the Assad government in Syria, and Iran all at the same time.
It is in this context that Israel is constantly talking up its “military superiority” needs, and expecting the US to pony up aid to maintain. Not merely defensive superiority against any single opponent in the region, but overwhelming superiority over the entire region at once.
That’s why Hezbollah acquiring defensive weapons is a big problem from Israel’s perspective, not only because Israeli military officials envision a token invasion of southern Lebanon every few years, but because if Hezbollah becomes less convenient to attack, the rest of their prospective enemies become harder in the bargain. For Israel, a Hezbollah armed with anti-ship weapons means Israel can’t part its Navy off the Lebanese coast and just shell away at their cities with impunity, and a Hezbollah with decent anti-aircraft weapons means Israel can’t constantly have warplanes violating Lebanese airspace, which they do even in peacetime.
Indeed the old WMD canard isn’t really at play here, except as a rhetorical tool. Former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin dismissed the threat posed by chemical weapons, saying Hezbollah would be even less likely to try to use them than Syria, and that they are simply too difficult to use to be operationally practical.