The agreement reached between the US and Russia for the destruction of chemical weapons in the possession of the Assad regime is fraught with difficulty and danger and, in the best case scenario, would likely end up with a token show of disarmament, Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Speaking to the Post by phone, Kemp, who also served in the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee and Cabinet Office Briefing Room, said: “I think it’s extremely difficult to do something like this during an active conflict, during a war. I think it’ll take a very large amount of time, with a significant amount of military protection, so that the inspectors can be as safe as they can be. That aspect will present huge challenges. Which country, first of all, will provide the scientists who will take these risks and the military forces to back them up? It’s a very dangerous situation.”
Kemp observed that there is a wide variety of factions in Syria, including regime forces and jihadists, meaning that it would be difficult to send weapons inspectors to the country.
“Secondly, to get verification in this kind of situation, I would say, is impossible,” he stated. “It would be very easy for President Assad to hide or remove out of the country significant quantities of chemical weapons.
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What we might end up seeing is a token show of disarmament. I don’t think it is realistically feasible.”
In turn, it would end up harming regional – and global – security, the former military commander warned.
Assad’s position would be strengthened by a more positive international stance towards him, “combined with very active Russian support and American collusion with that support,” Kemp said. Iran’s position, too, would be strengthened significantly, he continued, as the value of American deterrence “appears to be degraded as a result of this, and Iran’s own position is obviously strengthened by what will be its closer relations with Russia.”
This spells bad news from Israel’s perspective, Kemp said, adding nonetheless that “Israel appears to be the only reliable power in the region. America’s power and American deterrence is reduced. Israel remains the one reliable power that the world can count on to intervene if the situation gets too dangerous.”
He noted the three times that Israel, according to foreign media reports, intervened in Syria to prevent the transfer of advanced weapons, and the alleged 2007 Israeli air strike on Syria’s nuclear project.
“It’s that sort of action we need to be prepared to do,” Kemp said. “If Israel hadn’t struck Syria’s nuclear project, the situation now could be very different. We could be trying to deal with nuclear-armed Syria, which would be an impossibility. Israel is showing itself to be the only reliable power.”
The UK and the US have, over the past few weeks, “demonstrated their complete lack of resolve to do the right thing when it’s needed. It’s all very well speaking and posturing, but when the chips are down and it’s time to put their money where their mouth is, both the UK and US have shown there’s no will,” he said, pointing to a negative effect on world security.
Public opinion in the UK and US is too focused on what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, “particularly, Iraq,” he added. “Many people are not able to look at this situation as a different situation to Iraq.”
In the UK, a wide part of public opinion is influenced by a fear of militant Islam and the desire to pursue short-term, low-risk goals, at the expense of ignoring wider risks, Kemp said.