Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Syrian Chemical Weapons: Is a Disarmament Possible?

From BESA Center Perspectives Paper* No. 214, 24 Sept 2013, by Lt. Col. (res.) Dr. Dany Shoham:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Implementing chemical disarmament in Syria will be an enormous challenge, and the prospects for accomplishing it are doubtful. Appreciable portions of the chemical weapons arsenal have been trans-located, in part untraceably. Moreover, the timetable for Syrian disarmament announced by the US and Russia seems too condensed, even if “good will” and “fair play” are (mistakenly) assumed. Syria possesses a huge chemical warfare alignment, with dozens of multiform facilities and installations. Just an up-to-date mapping of this alignment is a very complex mission. The plausible possibility that various Iraqi chemical and biological weapons were added to the Syrian CBW inventory significantly complicates the situation. Moreover, Syria is likely to methodically further develop biological weapons as a powerful alternative to chemical weapons; and the US-Russia accord does not deal with this. 

This special edition Perspectives Paper can be viewed in its entirety in this PDF link.


While various events and assessments related to the Syrian chemical weapons (CW) capabilities and conducts have been largely covered in the media since the civil war began, the picture concerning the program’s evolution – both conceptual and technological, which led to Syria’s vast CW arsenal – have remained nearly unnoticed. Comprehending the evolution of the chemical program is a prime tool for coping with the current complex situation, particularly since Syria is about to join the international CW convention. Above all, hovers the question of whether President Bashar al-Assad is indeed ready to give up Syria’s non-conventional arms. This essay addresses these issues and provides a detailed picture about the Syrian CW program, from its inception to the present.
Syria today is a prominent member of the chemical and biological weapons (CBW) club. As early as 1992, the US Defense Department ranked Syria as the sole Muslim state possessing a “chemical systems capability in all critical elements” for chemical weapons. And in recent years, Syria has added biological weapons to its arsenal. Money is also there, and in plenty; the picture of poverty that is drawn for the Syrian army’s conventional ordnance is misleading. Syria spends between $1 billion and $2 billion annually on its ballistic and CBW capabilities, an enormous share of its military budget.
Syria’s successful development of its CBW capabilities is a textbook case of how a small but determined state can operate beneath the radar of international scrutiny, building a formidable array of non-conventional capabilities under an ostensibly scientific cover. Yet media reports and most discussions of Syrian CBW programs have been far from adequate. What strategic concepts inform Syria’s programs? And what is the nature and composition of the Syrian CBW alignment? A thorough analysis of those questions would clarify some aspects of Syria’s chemical arsenal.
Click here to read more.
*BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family
Click here for a PDF version of this article

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Fighting terrorism with settlement

From Daniel Pipes, September 23, 2013:

In retaliation for the shooting on Sep. 22 of an Israeli soldier, Sgt. Gabriel Koby, 20, while patrolling in Hebron, killed by a sniper with a shot to the neck, the Government of Israel has allowed the immediate resettlement of Beit Hamachpela ("House of the Patriarchs") a three-story apartment building in that city near the Cave of the Patriarchs and close to where Koby was shot.

(Hebron's Jewish community had purchased most of the building in March 2012 but its members were expelled from it by the Israeli government a few days later on the grounds that they lacked a residential permit. They subsequently won a lawsuit permitting them to return but did not have authorization to do so.)
Beit Hamachpela in Hebron.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented that
"Whoever tries to uproot us from the city of our forefathers will achieve the opposite. We will continue to fight terrorism and hit the terrorists with one hand, and we will continue to strengthen the settlement enterprise with the other hand."
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett noted that "We know how to build and settle. Not to kill. This would be the appropriate Zionist answer [to the violence]."
(1) As someone who has long argued for a more robust Israeli response to unprovoked violence, this decision strikes me as very appropriate. It signals the Palestinians that killing Israelis marches them exactly backwards. Next time, the Israeli response should be even more robust; as Aaron Lerner suggests, that could mean the settlement of a new neighborhood. This message would quickly get through and violence would abate.
(2) The Palestinian Authority did not condemn this attack, nor another one a day earlier, when an Israeli soldier, Tomer Hazan, also 20, was lured to his death in the West Bank, pointing again to the PA's completely unsuitability as a "peace partner" for Israel. The farcical negotiations sponsored by John Kerry and overseen by Martin Indyk should be suspended until Mahmoud Abbas makes a convincing apology and takes steps to insure that such misbehavior is never repeated. (September 23, 2013)

Rouhani will smile all the way to the bomb

From Washington Post, 23 Sept 2013:

[As] President Barack Obama tentatively engage[s] the new Iranian president, Hasan Rouhani[,]
Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for intelligence and strategic affairs, confirmed that Israel is alarmed by what he derided as Rouhani’s “smiley campaign.” He said that despite some friendly gestures, Iran has shown no signs of slowing its efforts to enrich uranium, a key step in the production of nuclear weapons.
“On the one hand, Iran is trying to appease the world with Rouhani’s moderate rhetoric. And on the other hand, Iran continues its approach toward nuclear weapons, and if nothing serious will be done, Rouhani will continue to smile, will continue to appease, and he will smile all the way to the bomb,” Steinitz told the Associated Press.
Iran claims its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. But critics in Israel and the West dismiss such explanations. They point to Iran’s refusals to cooperate with U.N. nuclear inspectors, its covert enrichment activities and lack of progress in years of Western on-and-off negotiations with the Iranians.
Israel has long claimed a nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat to world peace and security. For Israel, the stakes are especially high. Israel views a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to its very existence, noting calls by Iranian leaders for destruction of the Jewish state and Tehran’s support of Israel’s bitterest enemies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
Israeli leaders have repeatedly expressed frustration with the West’s inability to halt Iran’s nuclear program. While welcoming several rounds of economic sanctions against Iran, it says diplomatic pressure has not been enough and must be coupled with a credible threat of military action. Israel has repeatedly hinted that if needed, it is prepared to take unilateral military action against Iran’s nuclear program if it believes diplomacy has failed.
Speaking to his Cabinet last week, Netanyahu said he would make Iran the focus of his upcoming trip to the White House and the United Nations. He said he would make four key demands: that Iran stop enriching uranium, remove its existing stockpile of enriched uranium, close an underground enrichment facility in the central city of Qom and halt production of plutonium, another pathway to nuclear weapons.
“Until all four of these measures are achieved, the pressure on Iran must be increased and not relaxed, and certainly not eased,” he said.
That does not seem likely as Obama, who has always seemed reluctant to use force against Iran, appears set to give diplomacy another shot.
Since taking office last month, Rouhani has said he would like to peacefully resolve the nuclear standoff by finding a formula that would ease international sanctions in return for more nuclear transparency. Meanwhile, he has made a series of gestures toward the U.S., such as exchanging letters with Obama and telling the U.S. network NBC his country does not want nuclear weapons.
These gestures mark a dramatic departure from the policies of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who seemed to thrive on confrontation with Israel and the West. In another key shift, Rouhani appears to have the backing of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a sign his gestures are genuine.
The White House has cautiously welcomed Rouhani’s outreach, raising speculation of a meeting with Obama on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering.
“We have a preference for resolving this issue diplomatically and that we’re open to engagement with the Iranian government,” Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said last week. While calling for a “sense of urgency,” Rhodes also said the White House believes there is still time for diplomacy. Rhodes added: “We certainly recognize and appreciate Israel’s significant concerns about Iran.”
But Israeli officials are jittery. “Rouhani will cheat and lie at the U.N. Assembly,” Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told a group of visiting Christian parliamentarians from around the world on Sunday. “And therefore we say: One way or another the Iranian nuclear threat needs to be stopped,” he said.
For many in Israel, Obama’s handling of the Syrian crisis is a cautionary tale. After earlier declaring that the use of chemical weapons constituted a “red line”, Obama recently put off a strike in Syria in response to a chemical attack as part of a diplomatic agreement with Russia that calls for Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons by mid-2014. At the U.N., Obama will be trying to build support for a Security Council resolution making this agreement legally binding.
The U.S.-Russia agreement received only lukewarm support from Israel, which had felt it was important for Obama to uphold his red lines more firmly. Netanyahu has called the deal a “test case” for Iran, saying a failure by the international community to disarm Syria, Iran’s close ally, will bode poorly for global efforts to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
Netanyahu may also face questions about Israel’s changing assessments of Iranian capabilities. In his address to the U.N. last year, Netanyahu said Iran would reach the final phase of weapons production “at most” by mid-2013. In a published interview last week, Steinitz said Iran was “six months” away from weapons capability.
Israeli officials say the Syrian diplomatic compromise and the changing intelligence assessment on Iran are the result of successful international pressure, specifically the threat of military action.
“It was not Israel that changed its assessment. It was the Iranians that changed their behavior following the depiction, the presentation of the red line by Benjamin Netanyahu,” said Steinitz.
Pushing Iran too hard also risks drawing scrutiny toward Israel’s own nuclear activities. Israel is widely believed to possess nuclear weapons, though it neither confirms nor denies having them. Last week, Israel fended off an Arab-led attempt at the annual conference of the U.N.’s nuclear agency to censure Israel’s refusal to acknowledge having nuclear arms and put them under international oversight. Israel says an Israeli-Palestinian peace must be reached before creation of a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction.
Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israel relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, predicted disagreements between Netanyahu and Obama in their meeting.
“Netanyahu will ask Obama how he will make sure that Syria would not hide chemical weapons and that Iran would not develop nuclear weapons in disguise,” he said. “I see some disagreements because Obama is likely to accept many deficient agreements that could prevent use of force.”