Israeli soldiers in the Golan Heights, near the border with Syria. Photo: JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images

According to a "Top secret" cable sent to Israeli ambassadors earlier this week, Israel fears that the Assad regime will use the chemical weapons it still has left in a way which might spill over to Israeli territory. The contents of the cable were shared with me by senior Israeli officials.

Why it matters: Senior Israeli officials told me ambassadors around the world were asked to convey harsh messages about events in Syria, and Iran's role in them, due to the feeling that the international community doesn’t comprehend how concerned Israel was by Iran's actions, and how ready Israel is to take military action if no diplomatic solution is found.

On Monday night, three days after the latest escalation on the Israeli-Syrian border — in which an Iranian drone entered Israeli airspace and was shot down — the strategic division in the Israeli ministry of foreign affairs sent the 'Top Secret" cable to 15 Israeli embassies around the world, including in Washington. The cable contained instructions for the ambassadors to pass on to senior officials in their host states harsh warnings against Iranian military entrenchment in Syria.

One of the more unusual instructions in the cable was to pass a strong message regarding the Israeli concern that the chemical weapons left at the disposal of the Assad regime might be used against rebel forces close to the Israeli border in the Golan Heights and spill over to the Israeli side. In the cable the ambassadors were asked to tell their counterparts, "Such an incident will mandate a harsh response by Israel".

The cable also instructed the ambassadors to tell senior officials in their host governments that Iranian military entrenchment in Syria might increase Iran's temptation to challenge Israel in a way that will lead to further escalation.

"Israel does not want an escalation but has an obligation to defend itself", the cable reads.

Other messages the Israeli ambassadors were asked to convey:

  • The international community must pressure Iran and stop the Iranian attempt to encircle Israel via Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.
  • The international community must prevent Hezbollah from purchasing, assembling or manufacturing precision missiles which might be used to target Israel.
  • To prevent regional escalation, the international community must make sure Iran disengages from Syria and removes its military forces from the country.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 19,648,084 — Total deaths: 727,024 — Total recoveries — 11,941,723Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 4,998,105 — Total deaths: 162,425 — Total recoveries: 1,643,118 — Total tests: 61,080,587Map.
  3. Politics: Trump signs 4 executive actions on coronavirus aid — Democrats, and some Republicans, criticize the move
  4. Public health: Fauci says chances are "not great" that COVID-19 vaccine will be 98% effective — 1 in 3 Americans would decline COVID-19 vaccine.
  5. Science: Indoor air is the next coronavirus frontline.
  6. Schools: How back-to-school is playing out in the South as coronavirus rages on — Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Howard to hold fall classes online.
Updated 3 hours ago - World

Brazil coronavirus death toll tops 100,000 and case numbers surpass 3 million

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro posted a photo of himself to Facebook congratulating his soccer team, Palmeiras, for winning the state title Saturday, moments after the health ministry confirmed the national COVID-19 death toll had surpassed 100,000.

Why it matters: Brazil is only the second country to confirm more than 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus. On Sunday morning, it became the second country to surpass 3 million cases, per Johns Hopkins. Only the U.S. has reported more. Bolsonaro has yet to address the milestones. He has previously tested positive for COVID-19 three times, but he's downplayed the impact of the virus, which has crippled Brazil's economy.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the latest coronavirus case numbers and more context.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans and Democrats react to Trump's coronavirus aid action

President Trump speaks to workers at a manufacturing facility in Clyde, Ohio, on Thursday. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Some Republicans joined Democrats in criticizing President Trump Saturday night for taking executive action on coronavirus aid, with Democratic leaders demanding the GOP return to negotiations after stimulus package talks broke down a day earlier.

Why it matters: Trump could face legal challenges on his ability to act without congressional approval, where the constitutional power lies on federal spending. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) was the most vocal Republican critic, saying in a statement: "The pen-and-phone theory of executive lawmaking is unconstitutional slop."