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On Assad's Gas & Other Matters
Israel - Middle East
Friday, November 08, 2013
Alf Cengia

It seems like ages ago that Russian President Vladimir Putin reassuringly patted U.S. President Barack Obama on the back; and offered the latter a lifeline out of the conundrum of having to do something that he never really wanted to do, while still saving face i.e., getting involved in the Syrian conflict.

Just to recap, President Obama had once warned that:

“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation. . . . We’re monitoring that situation very carefully. We have put together a range of contingency plans.” (Emphases mine)

To be fair to Assad, it's difficult - if not impossible - to ascertain what the term "a whole bunch" empirically amounts to. Was the U.S. president talking about volume or weight of the gas? Or did it relate to a specific quantity of deaths related to nerve gas that shouldn't be breached. Was Assad confused by the president's rhetorical bluster?

One of the U.S. president's "contingency plans" apparently included the possibility of arming the Syrian rebels and operated under the assumption that Assad - certainly not the opposition - would commit the red line sin.

Whether or not Syrian President Bashar Hafez al-Assad actually used nerve gas on the rebel army, or whether it was the opposition who used it on fellow Syrians, is still a matter of contention for some pundits. Some of the claims on both sides of the fence are almost as murky as some of the John F. Kennedy assassination findings.

Whatever the case, the on the ground evidence pointed to the likelihood that someone (probably Assad) used the gas and crossed that red line. That then called to question the exact nature of those contingency plans and all those complex, prickly repercussions.

But what are friends for? Enter Vladimir Putin. He may have reiterated the following friendly piece of advice to his newbie U.S. President Pal:

“We need to remember what's happened in the last decade, the number of times the United States has initiated armed conflicts in various parts of the world. Has it solved a single problem?” 

Maybe it's just me, but doesn't that statement sound awfully like the complex question about whether one has stopped beating one's wife? Does the U.S. always haphazardly initiate armed conflict?

I'm sure Pres. Obama had a whole bunch of other pressing domestic matters to worry about. So he gratefully accepted Putin's gracious offer to avert WWIII by fixing the Syrian Gas Crisis; and flew back home to work on the deployment of his Obama Care.

The United States was off the hook; after all, military intervention never solved any problems. Putin and the United Nations would take good care of the process. President Obama promised to look in every now and then.

It was all good!

Well, there are a few flies in the ointment - like the enduring civil war. And, according to Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, "Russia is not going to do the actual destruction of chemical weapons, but Russian participation is quite possible." According to CTV NEWS:

'He [Churkin] said Syria cites "practical challenges" of destroying chemical weapons amid its civil war and "resource limitations" as reasons for shifting the destruction outside the country."

And then there's the following thorny caveat:

"Global chemical weapons inspectors will visit the last two unverified Syrian chemical weapons sites as soon as security conditions allow in the midst of an ongoing civil war, a UN official said Tuesday." (Emphases mine)

In the meantime we're seeing other unsettling incidents in the region. Turkish authorities have recently seized a large quantity of chemicals from a convoy attempting to illegally enter that country, and originating from Syria. These chemicals were said to be of a type which could be transformed into weapons.

Where did these people get them from and what was their final destination?

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) also asserts that: "Syria's entire declared stock of chemical weapons has been placed under seal." However, the word "declared" would seem to be both conditional on transparence and, hence, problematic.

One Asia Times columnist Victor Kotsev notes that the Syrian civil war has reached somewhat of a stalemate with Assad possibly "looking relatively comfortable in his grip on power" for the first time since its inception. He notes that some of the rebels have defected to al-Qaeda while others have entered into "direct negotiations" with Assad's regime. Kotsev cites Robert Fisk as suggesting a "future cooperation" with Assad and rebel defectors against the "extremists."

Al-Qaeda, extremists and defecting rebels; what's wrong with this picture? Wasn't the U.S. contemplating arming this Motley Crew?

How long before the Syrian situation settles down enough so that the United Nations and related organizations can destroy those chemical weapons? Given the Turkish border incident, what could happen in the interim, and how might it affect Israel?

Late last month Israel conducted an airstrike on a northern Syrian military facility near the Mediterranean coast. ABC News reports that:

"The attack is believed to be the fifth airstrike conducted by Israel inside Syria this year. Like the earlier airstrikes, the official said the latest attack presumably targeted advanced Russian missile weapons systems headed to the extremist group Hezbollah based in Lebanon." (Emphasis mine)

I rather think that the Syrian chemical weapons issue is no longer a central concern in President Obama's world. Like previous U.S. presidents, he'd love to end his term on a historical note by fixing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

However, I wonder whether anyone really believes that can ever happen.

The reality is that Israel is forced to fight for its existence by pre-emptive actions against future threats. Meanwhile people like Abbas are happy to prosper by demonizing it and using the Palestinian people as useful pawns in that process.

All that nerve gas is unlikely to be destroyed and there's a good chance that some of it will find its way to terrorist groups.

The Middle East conflict can only get worse.

Cengia" href="http://www.omegaletter.com/content/?Bio_Alf_Page">About Alf Cengia

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