Tehran pumped out a report Early Sunday June 10 accusing Syrian rebels of arming themselves with chemical weapons originating in Libya and acquiring training in their use from an unknown source in their use. The report sent shudders of alarm through Western capitals and Israel and fears that Tehran and Damascus were preparing the ground for the Assad regime to resort to chemical warfare to finally crush its foes.
Iran claimed, “Any report released on the Syrian Army’s alleged use of the chemical weapons is meant to pave the ground for the terrorists to use these weapons against the people and accuse the Syrian army and government of that crime.”
Three days earlier, on June 7, Syrian rebel sources charged that the Syrian air force planes had dropped poisonous substances over Deraa, Hama and Idlib which knocked people unconscious. This later proved unfounded.
Western military sources watching Syria’s flashpoint areas warn that the fact that both sides of the conflict are now talking openly about chemical warfare attests to their seriously getting ready for this deadly escalation – and the ultimate game-changer. If they indeed go through with it, say sources Washington, European capitals, Riyadh and Jerusalem, US President Barack Obama cannot possibly stick to his refusal to take military steps in Syria and will have to step in with limited force to stop the escalating horror.
In that case, the US would almost certainly be joined by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and possibly other Arab nations.
Official spokesmen in the West, Moscow and the UN are still warning that Syria is on the verge of civil war, refusing to admit that a sectarian war which they failed to avert is already fully fledged – certainly between Sunni Muslims and Assad’s Allawite minority.
The Christians are also involved because some members of that community occupy high-ranking positions in the military command. Defense minister Dawoud Rajiha, who manages government action against the revolt, is a Christian.
The conflict is no longer clear-cut between the Syrian army and the various armed rebel groups. The al Houla massacre in the last week of May was a tragic turning-point: Armed groups of Alawites and Sunnis living in the same neighborhoods are now turning on each other. Their battles go largely unreported. One of the most disastrous episodes of this kind erupted last week between Sunni and Alawite neighbors in Latakia. Many parts of southern, eastern and northern Syria had consequently spiraled out of control of military and security forces. Western and Israeli military sources report that regional commanders and the general staff in Damascus have lost track of the violence plaguing those regions and more massacres on the scale of al-Houla and Al Qubeir are feared.
The rebel Syrian National Council’s choice of a Kurdish exile Abdel Basset Sayda Saturday as its new head is a bad omen: More than a step toward resolving the differences among the various factions and unifying ranks, the appointment brings the Kurdish community, one-fifth of the Syrian population, squarely into the revolt. Syrian Kurds have stayed out of it until now.
A major concern for Jerusalem was sparked by recent comments in Iranian Revolutionary Guards publications. Friday and Saturday, the official IRGC mouthpiece Mashregh quoted a warning by Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazaeri that in the event of any Western or Arab force interfering in Syria, Assad’s allies in the resistance “would ensure that aggressors do not survive the conflict. The Zionist regime and the interests of the enemies of Syria are all within range of resistance fire.”
Saturday night, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined Moscow’s hard line on Syria: “Moscow would support the departure of President Bashar al-Assad, but only if Syrians agreed to it,” he stressed. He ruled out outside force and sanctions against the regime and proposed another international conference.
Moscow has now ranged itself solidly behind Assad and the pyramid that keeps him in power – family, Alawites and the top military echelon. Even if the ruler was himself ousted in a coup by his own army, the general who seized power could count on Russian backing.
Syria endured another day of slaughter Saturday with the numbers of dead in double digits and the Red Cross warning that more than a million Syrians are in dire need of aid. The Syrian tragedy is more intractable than ever.