01.10.2013 Author: Vladimir Simonov

The Dim Prospects of Syrian Settlement

Syrian_soldier_aims_an_AK-47.JPEGAs stated by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem immediately after the vote on the UN Security Council Resolution 2118, Damascus was ready to accept the conditions that the UN Security Council put forward in the resolution to ban the use of chemical weapons in the country. According to him, the Syrian government is carefully studying the contents of the approved document. Walid al-Moallem also underlined the fact that the authorities in the country are willing to participate, without any additional conditions, in an international conference on the Syrian conflict, where the government of Bashar al-Assad and the opposition forces would be represented. The relevant paragraph is contained in the resolution. Al-Moallem also appeled to the members of the Security Council, which adopted the document, for responsible attitude when dealing with international terrorism issues. The head of the Syrian Foreign Ministry said that his government is struggling against Al-Qaeda militants who have arrived from Afghanistan.

But in regard to the latter – the United States, the Western countries in general do not show any desire to stop the syrian bloodshed as well as their regional allies in Kuwait, and Wahhabi regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Moreover, in contrast to Damascus, Secretary of State John Kerry has loudly announced creation of some kind of “transitional government” as a precondition for Geneva-2 negotiations which in fact should be al-Assad’s demission and resignation. In other words, Washington and its allies’ demand still stands – Assad must go. But the Syrian president does not have such intention as he has already said in the media. Without rejecting talks with the opposition, the Syrian leader is clearly not going to capitulate.

So there is an insurmountable contradiction that preemptively dooms Geneva-2 to failure: without Assad stepping down, neither the United States, nor the opposition will sit down at the negotiating table. And it means the civil war in the country will continue, but in a few months, Damascus will have no weapons of deterrence, which until now have hampered Washington and its regional partners in conducting a large-scale military operation, not only by air, but on the ground.

Of course, we can safely say that today Russian diplomacy saved the regime of Bashar al-Assad from air strikes by the United States (which, by the way, would have had a limited time scope and a limited number of targets), with its suggestion of a plan to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons under international supervision. On October 1, inspections of Syria’s chemical arsenal by experts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are to begin. It would seem that the threat of war has distanced itself from Syria. However, if you look at the situation not at the tactical level, but from a not even too distant perspective, there is a somewhat different picture, devoid of the optimism that the Russian media produce these days. After the UN Security Council resolution, which was largely accepted due to Moscow’s initiative, under Western supervision Damascus will actually disarm and leaves itself one-on-one against the military threat of the United States, which has not withdrawn its navy and air force groups from the regions adjacent to Syria.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin in his speech at a recent panel discussion at the Valdai club very clearly stated that Syria’s chemical arsenal has existed for several decades with the sole purpose of creating some parity with the military might of Israel. It is worth recalling that Israel is known not only as an unofficial nuclear power, but also as a possessor of chemical weapons. By the way, the Russian president agreed with a number of leaders of the League of Arab States, who called on the IAEA session to condemn Israel for non-adherence to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and, in fact, for the existence of such weapons in the arsenals of the Jewish state. But this Arab League initiative was rejected by 51 votes to 43. So, once again double standards? And what about the chemical weapons stockpile in Egypt, where, as you know, the situation is still far from stable, and where in two government were overthrown voilently during two years? Why has the international community not wanted to eliminate Egypt’s stockpile of chemical weapons, especially since Egypt is much more of a threat to Israel than Syria?

Incidentally, according to data from various sources, Israel has from 70 to 300 nuclear warheads, and it can produce up to even 200 more in a short time. As for chemical weapons, they were used by the Israelis in 1982 in Beirut. At the time the relevant information was provided by TASS, calling the substance used by Israeli military BZ nerve gas. In 1989, the existence of chemical weapons was acknowledged by the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Even having signed the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 1992, Israel has not yet ratified the document.

Therefore it is completely obvious that the main beneficiary from the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is Israel. Although one more thing must be honestly admitted – Tel Aviv is much more satisfied with the current government of Bashar al-Assad, rather than the motley coalition of opposition forces, in which more than half are Islamists.

In any case, the United States, as the principal ally of Israel, used to the maximum its chance to amend the original draft of the Russian side. So now, even if the Islamists win in the Syria, they will not have a trump card for the chemical blackmail of Israel. And this is good, even very good, that the extremists do not get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. It is another matter that is unfortunate – that Washington will not end the rebellion, in which the proportion of radical Islamists, including those of Al-Qaeda, is growing rapidly. And this is already against the interests of Israel, unless there has been any secret agreements in this account, which has not yet been the subject of leaks to the media. For now, however, the following is important: according to the unanimously adopted UN resolution 2118, in the case of non-fulfillment by Damascus of the agreement to provide inspectors with information about its chemical weapons or preventing their transport for disposal, Chapter 7 of the UN Charter may be used against Syria, which provides, among other things, for a military operation against the country. Although formally it requires a separate resolution from the Security Council. But we know how the United States complied with these formalities, using a similar Security Council resolution as a fig leaf to cover for its aggression against sovereign Iraq and Libya.

In addition, U.S. officials insist on the shortest terms for destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenals. According to the Secretary of State of the United States John Kerry, this should occur no later than 2014. And that’s when all military options against Syria will be available. So Syria remains defenseless in the face of Israel, the United States and its allies, which in the future will do anything to overthrow the Assad regime. Only a naive person might assume that Washington and Riyadh will allow Moscow to win in Syria and the Middle East. Especially now, when the United States has made a dramatic rapprochement with Iran, which, along with Russia, was the only reliable supporter of Damascus. There is still time left, but it clearly does not play in favor of Russia or Syria. Unless the improbable happens, and Washington and Saudi Arabia sit down at the Geneva-2 negotiating table with the Syrian opposition. But I hardly believe it!

Vladimir Simonov is an expert on the Middle East, and Candidate of Historical Sciences. Exclusively for the online magazine New Eastern Outlook.

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