Inept US-Israeli Handling of Assad’s Chemical-Biological Arsenal
Since the second week of July, US President Barack Obama has been warning the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad not to dare use his chemical and biological weapons stocks against anyone – the Free Syrian Army rebels or his neighbors, although they are all involved, one way or another, in helping the Syrian opposition.
Turkey provides the FSA with a logistical and operational jumping-off base for attacking the Assad regime; Jordan is the main conduit for the passage of Saudi and Qatari arms to the rebels, and Israel, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources reveal, is feeding the FSA with intelligence on the movements of troops loyal to Assad and providing military instructors.
These activities prompted the Syrian foreign ministry’s statement of July 23 that Damascus did not intend to use biological weapons against the Syrian people, only against “external aggressors.”
Assad has therefore placed the six countries assisting the Syrian revolt squarely in his sights for retaliation by unconventional weapons.
Israel and Jordan are his prime targets. A WMD attack on Israel would provoke an all-out Israel-Syrian war which could encompass the Hizballah in Lebanon and pose a dilemma for the Syrian rebels: As Syrian patriots they would have to decide whether they were enjoined to join his army in fighting Israel – even if this meant abandoning their rebellion and keeping him safe in power for the foreseeable future.
This outcome is not what the Obama administration wants to see – especially as it would force the United States to stand by Israel in the closing months of the presidential campaign.
More embarrassment for the Obama administration
A Syrian chemical or biological attack on Jordan, even if it was limited to military targets and skirted around the American military personnel present there, would also seriously embarrass Washington. It would be seen as a slap in the face which the administration could hardly ignore.
America’s failure to fight back would further enfeeble the Hashemite throne which is already wobbling in the face of an encroaching “Arab revolt.”
Jeopardy to King Abdullah II in Amman would immediately branch out to Riyadh, which is why US sources keeping track of the situation in Saudi Arabia are reporting that the royal house is close to panic.
These circumstances led the United States, Israel and Russia to warn the Syrian ruler against letting his conventional weapons pass into other hands, especially Hizballah.
Monday, July 23, President Obama issued this warning: “Given the regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons.”
Assad is unmoved by threats and warnings
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, followed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, added another warning: Israel is preparing itself for a possible attack on Syrian storage areas, because “we cannot accept the transfer of advanced weapons from Syria to Lebanon.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s analysts report that these exceptionally grave warnings have had no effect at all.
The Syrian threat to use prohibited weaponry stands; none have been restored to storage and remain out in the field; and Israel’s strong words are unfulfilled. In all, the chemical warfare menace can be marked “unresolved” along with every other aspect of the Syrian crisis.
This impasse leaves the US, Israel, Jordan and Turkey stuck with three undesirable eventualities:
1. US intelligence analysts see little chance of Assad responding to President Obama’s warning and holding off from using his unconventional weapons if he feels the sword is at his throat.
2. There is no guarantee that he will not be able to sneak those weapons out – even though, as DEBKA–Net–Weekly reveals here, US, Israeli, Turkish and Jordanian covert forces are close to their sites.
In other words, the Syrian ruler still has surprises up his sleeve and is free to use his chemical and biological weapons at a time and against the targets of his choosing.
The CW guards may capitalize on their asset
3. Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz said Tuesday, July 24, that Syria had strengthened the protective measures for its chemical weapons stocks of late: “According to my best judgment, he is in full control of this system… and it has not passed into negative hands. This may change and then we’ill face a dilemma.”
The Israeli general clearly envisages Syria’s chemical weapons passing at some point to Hizballah or the Al Qaeda factions at large in Syria.
A fourth eventuality is posited here by DEBKA-Net-Weekly: The reinforced military units guarding the unconventional weapons stores may use them as a winning card for a coup against the Assad regime in Damascus and insurance against a counter-coup.
Neither Washington nor Jerusalem offers answers to any of these eventualities.