The Lessons of the Syrian Chemical Weapons Discovery

800px-WMD_symbols_variant-2_horizontal.svg_Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (May 19):

  • In early May, inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that they had located traces of sarin-type chemical weapons and ricin-type biological weapons in at least three sites in Syria which the Assad regime had not reported. This came following verification of the regime’s extensive use of chlorine in barrel bombs dropped on heavily populated areas controlled by the opposition. These developments and Western reactions carry ramifications that go beyond the Syrian context, with direct implications for the planned nuclear deal with Iran.
  • So long as the extent of supervision is dictated by the supervised party’s declarations regarding its facilities, and so long as that party’s intention is to retain prohibited capabilities, that party can conceal facilities or surreptitiously transfer assets to other sites relatively easily. In this context, Iran has made clear yet again that it refuses to allow unlimited access to its military facilities or those of the Revolutionary Guard, which obviously could hide crucial components of the nuclear program.
  • Once problematic information emerges, no matter how grave, the West makes no quick decision, let alone taking the required action. The lack of political will to be drawn into a conflict with the party under supervision leads to foot-dragging; the issue is sidelined and its importance downplayed. The chlorine-gas attacks on the Syrian population, for example, have become a humdrum matter that interests no one and is barely mentioned, let alone spurring a response.
  • The West’s commitment to act on these issues only within the framework of a broad international coalition creates total paralysis. In the Iranian context, the Russians have already made clear that they will oppose a snapback of the sanctions even if Iran violates the nuclear agreement, if and when it is signed.
  • Whoever wants to defend against the threats embodied in Iran’s behavior must have an independent capacity to act – even if one enjoys a deep strategic security relationship with the U.S. What the Saudis have been demonstrating in Yemen shows that they have already reached this conclusion.

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Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on the Regional Implications of the Syrian Civil War at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research and Analysis and Production Division of IDF Military Intelligence.

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