One way to reduce the tensions surrounding the Syrian crisis would be for Israel to also give up its alleged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Both Russia and the US are likely to ask Israel to dismantle its stocks.
Recently declassified CIA documents suggest that Israel secretly built up its own stockpile of chemical and biological weapons decades ago. This has added more fuel to the lingering complaint of Arab states, who accuse Israel of possessing nuclear weapons.
Syria has often spoken of its estimated 1,000-ton chemical weapons stockpile as a deterrent against another military conflict with Israel.
“The chemical weapons in Syria are a mere deterrence against the Israeli nuclear arsenal,” announced Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari, referring to the declassified 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 CWC as a gesture to show our willingness to be against all weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, generally perceived in the west as Syria’s main protector, said Tuesday: “It’s well known that Syria has a certain arsenal of chemical weapons and the Syrians always viewed that as an alternative to Israel’s nuclear weapons.”
Now the Syrian government is suggesting it may not decommission its chemical weapons stockpiles unless its neighbors do likewise.
“The main danger of WMD is the Israeli nuclear arsenal,” said Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, last Thursday, stressing that Israel also possesses chemical weapons but “nobody is speaking about that.”
Such statements put the Syrian chemical weapons crisis into a new perspective. The US administration has for decades refused to discuss Israeli arsenals that allegedly contain nuclear warheads. By bringing the issue to an international discussion, Damascus might put the Obama administration into an awkward position.
There has already been a reaction from Washington, when the State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said that the US will never accept attempts to compare Syrian regime with “thriving democracy” of Israel which “doesn’t brutally slaughter and gas its own people,” she said.
Traditionally, Israeli officials never comment on accusations that the country possesses WMD, pointing out that Israel lives under constant threats from Middle East countries such as Iran, Lebanon and Syria.
Israel signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which came into force in 1997, but has never ratified it. It remains to be seen whether Tel Aviv will now ratify it, as well the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention.
“Some of these states don’t recognize Israel’s right to exist and blatantly call to annihilate it…These threats cannot be ignored by Israel, in the assessment of possible ratification of the convention,” the WDSJ reported Israeli government spokesman Jonathan Peled as saying.
Israeli soldiers stand near an “Iron Dome” battery, a short-range missile defence system, designed to intercept and destroy incoming short-range rockets and artillery shells, near Jerusalem (AFP Photo)
So far, the CWC has been signed and ratified by 189 countries, with only seven states refusing to join the Convention.
On Thursday, Syria’s UN envoy announced that his country had technically joined the CWC.
“Legally speaking Syria has become, starting today, a full member of the [CWC] convention,” Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said, after submitting Syria’s documents to the UN. He said that President Bashar Assad had signed a decree approving Syria’s accession to the convention, with the country’s Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem also informing the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons of Damascus’s decision to join the convention.
But an anonymous source in the UN told Reuters that the organization is still busy studying the documents.
“I think there are a few more steps they have to take [before Syria is a signatory] but that’s why we’re studying the document,” a UN official told Reuters.
The Washington Post reported that the Obama administration does not exclude the possibility that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles could be taken to Russia for utilization, though Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Saturday there was no plan yet as to which country will take on the task.
Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons after several hundred people died in a gas attack in a suburb of Damascus on August 21. Washington accused the Assad government of staging the attack and threatened to launch missile strikes against military targets inside the country. The Syrian government flatly denied all the allegations, blaming the rebel forces backed by the west and the Gulf states for the chemical attack. Considering the imminent threat of foreign invasion, Damascus agreed to Moscow’s proposal to give up chemical weapons altogether.
Saturday’s talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, resulted in a preliminary agreement on decommissioning Syria’s chemical weapons and for a Geneva-2 peace conference to resolve the crisis politically.
While Kerry stressed possible sanctions and punishment to be implemented on the Assad government if it fails its honor its promises, Lavrov said the general aim was to make the Middle East a place “free of WMD.”
Once Syria joins the Chemical Weapons Convention, only Israel, Angola, Burma, Egypt, North Korea and South Sudan will remain outside the group.