Reflecting the mounting concern in Israel that Syrian forces could use chemical weapons - and that terror groups like Hezbollah could get a hold of those deadly Syrian stockpiles - the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is now taking new measures to protect its soldiers. The IDF weekly magazine, Bamahane, reports that, in the coming months, the IDF will begin distributing anti-nerve medication to medics serving among the combat troops. The Times of Israel reports:
The IDF has acquired tens of thousands of doses of a drug used to combat nerve agent chemical poisoning and will distribute them to all combat medics in the coming months, according to a report in the new issue of the army’s Bamahane weekly magazine.
The drug, diazepam, is an anti-convulsant, halting seizures caused by nerve agents such as VX and sarin. Until now, the IDF supplied all medics with atropine, a drug that counters attacks on the respiratory system, but diazepam, which protects the central nervous system, was available only in intravenous form and was distributed only to rear echelon battalion medical centers.
“Now the medics receive auto injectors, enabling treatment half an hour to an hour earlier than before, and also enabling treatment to 10 times more people,” the head of nonconventional warfare medicine in the IDF’s medical corps, Lt. Col. Dr. Micah Ksirer, told this week Bamahane.
Quoting U.S. officials, NBC News reported last week that the Syrian military had loaded precursor chemicals for sarin gas – a deadly nerve agent - into aerial bombs and were simply waiting for President Bashar Assad to authorize their use against rebels threatening his rule.
But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta now seems to be backing away from the more serious chemical weapons allegations made by those unnamed U.S. officials. On Tuesday, he said the Syrian regime appears to have slowed its preparations for the possible use of chemical weapons against opposition fighters.
Panetta said: “At this point the intelligence has really kind of leveled off.”
“We haven’t seen anything new indicating any aggressive steps to move forward in that way,” he added.
Israel is setting its own red line regarding Syria. Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. says if Hezbollah were to secure chemical weapons from the Syrian stockpile, would be a “game changer” for Israel. He told Fox News Sunday:
We're watching the situation very carefully. […] Syria has a varied, deep chemical weapons program. It's geographically dispersed as well and were those weapons to pass into the wrong hands, into Hezbollah's hands, for example, that would be a game changer for us.[…]
We have a very clear red line, about those chemical weapons, passing into the wrong hands. Can you imagine, if Hezbollah, with its 70,000 rockets, got its hands on chemical weapons, that could kill thousands of people.
Even though President Assad has been a historic benefactor of Hezbollah, Israeli officials do not believe his Syrian troops will aim those chemical weapons at Israel. “We see no sign that this weaponry is being pointed at us,” Minister of Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon said this week. “Syria has been armed for the last decades with chemical missiles and weapons, but our deterrent factor is stable and the proof is that they haven’t used them against us yet.”
The Times of Israel adds that U.S. troops in designated battlefields also carry diazepam and atropine, and that soldiers are expected in the case of atropine to use an auto-injector to self-administer the dose and in the case of diazepam, to administer it to their buddies in the field.
Lt. Col. Dr. Ksirer told the IDF weekly, “Shortening the duration [prior to] treatment can save the injured from brain damage and death.”
The IDF Spokesperson tells the Times that the army “constantly reevaluates the medical gear necessary to provide medical care for soldiers in the battlefield. Military medics must be prepared for every eventuality; the gear that they carry reflects this principle.”