Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon have until now patted themselves on the back for striking a balanced and cautious stance which kept Israel secure in the course of the nearly three-year old Syrian conflict. However, President Barack Obama’s decision to put US military action against Syria on hold – unveiled in six US TV interviews Tuesday, Sept. 10 – leaves Israel exposed to a major threat: Bashar Assad’s chemical warfare capability which is left intact.
By buying into Moscow’s proposal to place Syria’s chemical arsenal under international oversight (picked up from a possible throwaway comment by US Secretary of State John Kerry), Obama has in fact opened the door to the “Iranian syndrome.”
Yet another weapon of mass destruction is now loose in the Middle East. Assad can dip into Tehran’s two decades of bamboozling international inspectors and concealing its nuclear weapons program and pick up endless tricks to keep his chemical arsenal far from “international control” – not to mention destruction.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) doesn’t even have a mechanism for monitoring CW. It would need many months or years – if ever – to dig through a mountain of bureaucracy and build one and muster expert personnel for the task. By then, the chemical arsenal will be well distributed and hidden in inaccessible locations – a project the Syrian government embarked on two weeks ago when America was still believed to be genuinely on track for a military strike. The monitors would also need the Damascus government’s consent to carry out inspections.
debkafile’s military sources report that the 20 locations in which the poison gas containers were hidden two weeks ago had grown by this week to fifty.
Most international intelligence agencies in the West and the Middle East were relying on Israel’s clandestine services to keep track of the whereabouts of the concealed CW. It was taken for granted that when the Syrian war reached a point at which the Syrian ruler used his chemical weapons, the US and its allies, including Israel, would deploy special forces for covert operations to destroy them.
Netanyahu and Ya’alon must now decide whether to continue this painstaking covert effort for updating the map of concealed chemical weapons stores, now that President Obama has put military action on a back burner. It will be much harder now that he has given Assad leeway for moving the stocks around from place to place to hoodwink secret watchers.
It is no wonder, therefore, that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javed Zarif Tuesday joined the Assad regime in welcoming Moscow’s proposal: Syria has joined Iran and North Korea on the list of WMD possessors which are safe from US military punishment.
For Israel this is a fiasco. The Netanyahu government’s rationale for sticking to the Obama administration’s line on the Syrian conflict was that it would eventually bring about the break-up – or at least the weakening – of the Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah axis.
But now, President Obama has led his Syria strategy into a blind alley, leaving the axis stronger than ever before and Israel in the lurch.
After using massive quantities of poison gas to kill hundreds of civilians with impunity, Bashar Assad will not hesitate to go forward with his next objective, the capture of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest town.
For months, Israel tried to convince Washington of the vital importance of keeping Aleppo out of Assad’s hands, because it is the ultimate game changer of the civil war that would award ultimate victory to the Assad regime and its allies, Iran, Russia and Hizballah.
Now that the threat of an imminent US attack has been lifted, the Syrian ruler’s way is open to win Aleppo, with his chemical arsenal intact. It is clear that Israel is the loser of this round.