The most striking conclusion to be drawn from the special DEBKA-Net-Weekly log tracking the emergence of Syria’s chemical and biological peril in the second half of 2012 is that – outside of talk – the US, the European Union and Russia have never really lifted a finger to smash the bottle before the evil genie can escape. Neither have its prospective victims, Turkey, Jordan or Israel.
The second inescapable conclusion from this one-time review is that nothing tangible was done to keep Syria’s chemical weapons from reaching the hands of the terrorist organizations, including those associated with al Qaeda fighting in the revolt against the Assad regime in Syria.
This restraint is hard to explain. The United States is undoubtedly conscious of the menace awaiting its military forces and bases in the countries around Syria, especially those in Jordan, with the onset of Syrian chemical warfare. And Russia knows that once those unconventional weapons reach jihadists hands, they will before long be passed to their brothers in the restive Caucasus.
Yet Washington and Moscow, though engaged in secret dialogue for the last six months, have failed to achieve any real measure of cooperation for eliminating Syria’s biological and chemical weapons
They even lack exact and comprehensive information on the size and locations of these dangerous arsenals.
This state of affairs recalls the oft-repeated assertions by US administration officials during 2012 – from President Barack Obama, ex-Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey – that US intelligence was sure to know to the minute when Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered the assembly of atomic bomb.
These assertions were never credited by any Middle East military or intelligence figure in the know.
Obama inexplicably withdraws US fleet from Mediterranean
In view of the above, eyebrows were raised higher than ever when, in the second weekend of December, at peak-tension over Syrian preparations to launch chemical weapons, President Obama recalled to their home bases the American naval forces stationed opposite Syria from the second half of November (during Israel’s anti-terror Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza).
The USS Eisenhower Strike Group and the Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group turned around and headed out of Middle East waters taking with them the two thousand Marines carried on board.
Left behind in solitary control of the waters off Syria was the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s Naval Task Force.
In the last two weeks of December, this force was doubled to number 16 Russian warships carrying 2,000 marines.
This changing of the naval guard around Syria between America and Russia was never reported in the American, European or Middle East media, least of all was any explanation provided for Obama’s decision.
Was Washington lulled into assuming that everything was fine and dandy by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s assurance on Dec. 22 that the Syrian government had consolidated its chemical weapons in one or two locations, amid a rebel onslaught, and that Russian military advisers were keeping a close watch on Syria’s chemical arsenal?
The unreliability of Russian and Western intelligence sources on Syria
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources, the US-Russian exchanges, such as they are, depend heavily on the information Syrian President Bashar Assad and his intelligence chiefs feed directly to Moscow.
Can anyone in Washington be sure about its credibility or judge what Assad is hiding from the Russians?
Equally unreliable are the Syrian opposition sources supposedly filling the gaps with information supplied to Turkish, Israeli, Jordanian and NATO allies’ intelligence. None of them can be sure which Syrian unit or commander has been armed with chemical weapons or fix the moment of their use – whether on orders from Assad, the Syrian army command, or on a local initiative. Neither can they tell when a Syrian officer or soldier with access to chemical weapons may decide to hand them over to an Al Qaeda chief in Syria – or sell them for a going rate liable to run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Thursday, January 3, the political adviser of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Bassam Al-Dada, said, “The rebels have all the components for producing chemical weapons, and the know-how to put them together and use them if necessary.”
Al-Dada said the rebels would use such weapons only if the regime used chemical weapons first and only against regime targets.
This may sound reassuring. FSA units have spent time in Jordan, being trained in chemical warfare tactics mainly by US Green Berets special units, before being sent back to the Syrian battlefields. They were taught not just how to control such weapons systems if captured from the Syrian army, but are also able to apply what they have learned to building primitive versions of these systems on their own.
In other words, the assistance rendered the rebels by the West has not put an end the growing chemical warfare menace but expanded it.
Parts of Assad’s chemical arsenal are in Hizballah’s hands
Even more problematic is the almost-certain transfer of Syrian chemical and biological weapons to the pro-Iranian Hizballah terrorist organization in Lebanon.
Plenty of information has reached US, Israeli and other Middle East intelligence agencies showing that, back in January 2012 and again in May, Assad took the precaution of pushing part of his chemical weapons stock across the border for safekeeping in Hizballah strongholds in the Beqaa Valley.
Yet, a Western-Arab-Israeli conspiracy of silence is keeping this development dark as well as the fact that
US and Israeli officials alike have failed to live up to their pledges to intervene militarily if this transpired.
Washington Post political columnist David Ignatius tried to bring this dangerous development to American public notice on Dec. 19 with solid evidence. He failed to elicit any official response.
Privately, US intelligence officials may admit that Syrian chemical weapons are cached in the Beqaa Valley. But they insist that they are under the protection of Iranian Al Quds Brigades’ special forces and Iran will not allow them to be used.
The safe disposition of Syria’s chemical weapons depends therefore on flimsy understandings between the US, Russia and Iran – in other words, on not much more than a hope and a prayer.
If Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem are willing to stay mum when chemical weapons pass into the hands of the Hizballah, why wouldn’t they shut up when they reach Al Qaeda?
In the final reckoning, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources say, the two primary extremist movements of the Muslim world, Shiite and Sunni, look like ending up armed with chemical and biological weapons.