How Geneva II Faded and Syria’s Big Chemicals Store Vanished
Strange things are happening in Syria.
On Oct. 15, a convoy of about 100 Syrian army trucks was sighted transporting a large consignment of chemical arms from their big depot at the Al Safira military base east of Aleppo to another facility in the town of Hama, some 160 kilometers to the south. This was reported at the time by debkafile.
A large military escort secured the convoy.
President Bashar Assad was believed to be secretly moving part of his chemical weapons stocks and missiles of delivery out of Al Safira, where Scud C and Scud D surface-to-surface missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads were also known to be housed in bunkers. Tarpaulin sheets concealed the trucks’ freights from foreign spy planes and satellites.
Three weeks later, on Thursday, Nov. 7, the Syrian government announced it had given the experts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the United Nations “video and photographic evidence showing the chemical site at Al Safira had been dismantled and abandoned by the government.” This was confirmed by the OPCW.
The images showed the facility empty with “extensive battle damage.”
There were no details on when or how this damage occurred.
The images were shot with a tamperproof camera fitted with a GPS system for the camera’s location and authenticated by international inspectors.
Assad saves his largest chemical hoard by relocation in new sites
Tuesday, Nov. 5, a US official and the US representative to the UN finally suggested that Syria may be hiding some of its chemical weapons. US allies in the region accused America of not standing up firmly enough against the chemical threat.
According to DEBKA Weekly’s military sources, the Al Safira base was the largest repository of Assad’s chemical arsenal. It held around 40 percent of his total stockpile, i.e. 400-500 tonnes of chemical materials. By emptying this store out and manufacturing “battle damage,” the regime hoodwinked the international inspectors into accepting that this large stockpile had been destroyed, as promised.
In fact, most of the stock was spirited out of Al Safira on Oct., 15, as suspected, and hidden anew in secret military sites near Hama and Homs, which are not on the OPCW’s list of declared sites for inspection – and so safe from destruction.
One observer commented that if Assad was allowed to keep his chemical stockpile in violation of his US-Russian brokered commitment, the Obama administration’s credibility would be likely to suffer in its conduct of the Iranian nuclear issue.
However, Washington and Moscow have carefully kept such violations out of sight.
Obama hands convening a Syria conference over to Putin
Assad’s chemical weapons were not the only vanishing element of the Syrian civil war.
Gone too is Geneva II, the conference for resolving Syria’s future, which US Secretary John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov endorsed so enthusiastically on Sept. 14, as the centerpiece of their understanding on Syria’s nuclear weapons.
American diplomats spent hours and a huge effort in trying to persuade the fractious Syrian opposition groups to send a united delegation to the conference. Washington quietly promised Moscow and the UN/Arab League Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, to look the other way to the participation of Assad and Iranian delegates.
The convening of the conference was scheduled to top the agenda of Kerry’s meeting with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh on Monday, Nov. 4.
But not a word was said on the subject by mutual consent. Both the Secretary and his host knew by then that Geneva II was dead. It was killed in a secret exchange when Barack Obama accepted Vladimir Putin’s plan to call off Geneva II, because it had proved impossible to gather all the parties under one roof. He decided instead to leave it to Russia to convene the conference on a political solution for the Syrian conflict at a later date in Moscow.
The US president, having disencumbered his administration from involvement in Syria, was content to leave the conference and its impediments to the Syrian experts of the Russian Foreign Ministry and intelligence, who clearly know what they are about in the embattled country