NIGHTWATCH: Syria

08 Proliferation, 08 Wild Cards, Peace Intelligence

Syria: Syrian ambassador to the UN Jaafari said, “Legally speaking Syria has become, starting today, a full member of the (chemical weapons) convention.” He made the statement after submitting relevant documents to the United Nations.

He said President Bashar al-Asad signed a legislative decree on Thursday that “declared the Syrian Arab Republic approval to accede to the convention” and that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mu’allim had written to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to notify it of Syria’s decision to join the convention.

“The chemical weapons in Syria are a mere deterrence against the Israeli nuclear arsenal,” Jaafari said as he waved a document he said was a CIA report on Israel’s chemical weapons program.

“It’s a deterrent weapon and now the time has come for the Syrian government to join the (convention) as a gesture to show our willingness to be against all weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

Comment: Syria has to comply with other provisions of the convention before it is considered a signatory to the convention, but it has taken the first step that leads to international control and destruction of its chemical weapons. That is a breakthrough in its own right. Israel should be pleased and relieved, just a bit. Israel is not a signatory to the Convention nor a member of the OPCW.

Syria did not take this step gratuitously. It expects the US to agree to not attack Syria. At this moment Syria has the moral high ground.

The West seems slow to appreciate the strategic significance of the Syrian action as it relates to Israel. Western treatment continues to focus on the fighting inside Syria. Syrian action to join the chemical weapons convention keeps the fighting inside Syria as long as the Ba’athists are in power and a deal with the US can be reached.

If no agreement is reached, Syria could join Iran in shooting missiles at Israel in retaliation for a US attack. If the Ba’athist government is overthrown, the opposition has made clear it will attack Israel with chemicals. At least, that is what some said this week.

The conclusion is that the Syrians know they can beat the opposition unless they get US assistance. Syria is holding Israel hostage to the threat of chemical fires to keep the US out.

More gas. Syrian opposition websites have posted pictures of what they claim is a fresh chemical weapons attack on Damascus, this time on the suburb of Jobar. The alleged attack resulted in casualties, activists told al Arabiyaon Thursday. One account said this was the second attack in this suburb this week.

Comment: The opposition blamed the government for using chlorine gas. They also claimed the Syrian air force bombed a hospital too. Somebody might be overplaying his hand.