A US official and the American representative to the United Nations suggested on
Tuesday that Syria may be trying to hide some of its chemical weapons, raising
more fears among US allies in the region that America is not standing up
strongly enough for them.
US allies – such as Israel and the Gulf states
– that oppose the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis are further worried what kind of
precedent this situation will set for a possible deal with Iran.
Russian-brokered deal to which the US and Syria agreed called for the complete
dismantlement of the latter regime’s chemical weapons
. If it turns out that some
weapons were secretly retained, it would be a blow to US credibility in the
region and likely affect its handling of the Iran nuclear file.
Eyal Zisser, an expert on Syria from the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv
University, told The Jerusalem Post
in an interview Wednesday evening that for
Syrian President Bashar Assad, the deal was a good one because not only did it
enable him to stay in power, it granted him a kind of immunity from being
attacked by the West.
For the US administration, it was a good deal
politically, because America did not want to get involved militarily in Syria
but did want to show some sign that it cared about the humanitarian catastrophe
occurring there, he said.
Asked if there was a connection between the
Syrian agreement and a possible deal with Iran, Zisser maintained that “Iran is
one thing and Syria is another. But clearly what connects them is a lack of will
in America to get involved in the region.”
Zisser believes it is unlikely
that the Syrian leader is hiding chemical weapons, because it would be “too
risky for Assad,” and the US could ultimately find weapons that he tried to
hide. Furthermore, Zisser added, Assad does not even need them; he has
conventional military means to continue fighting the
Meanwhile, it seems that any deal that Iran would be willing
to sign would not be good enough for Israel or the Gulf states, which are
demanding a complete stop to the country’s nuclear program.
see a partial deal allowing Iran to retain some enrichment capability as more
Elias Harfoush, writing Tuesday in the popular London-based daily
, expressed many Sunni Arab states’ frustrations with the US
administration when he said that “Tehran is aware of [US President] Barack
Obama’s weakness” and that he “must not surrender to his adversaries” – a
reference to Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
He concluded by quoting Iranian
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: Every population or state that trusted
America ended up receiving a blow from it.
The news that Assad is
cheating is, of course, predictable, noted Tony Badran, a research fellow at the
Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
However, the way the US
administration has prematurely credited him and praised the deal, deriding
skeptics, naturally raises questions and concerns about whether it will repeat
this performance with the Iranians, passing off a bad deal as a diplomatic
Badran told the Post that US allies were already frustrated at
the administration’s decision to make a deal with Syria over chemical weapons
instead of attacking Assad and enforcing Obama’s redline.
US allies in
the region see these recent developments as a “battleground against Iranian
regional designs, where the US is refusing to back them and the rebels against
Tehran,” Badran said. “This is already causing these allies to question the
reliability of the US. The chemical weapons farce will weaken US credibility
that much more.”
In addition, he went on, the failure to convene the
Syrian peace talks in Geneva demonstrates “that the US doesn’t have a strategy
Chuck Freilich, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center of
Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former deputy national security
adviser in Israel, told the Post that he saw the process of destroying Syria’s
chemical arms as continuing successfully despite some reports that the country
may be hiding some weapons.
Even if those reports turn out to be true, he
went on, it was a possibility that many had already considered.
event, “the overall outcome would be far better than could have been achieved by
a military attack, which was to be limited in nature to begin with and not even
focused on the chemical weapons, but simply a form of punishment for Syria’s use
of chemical weapons,” he said.
Regarding the precedent for Iran, he
added, “no one approaches this with any sense of trust toward the
A deal with Iran – considering that it calls for conditions
such as limiting the levels of enrichment, transferring its uranium stockpiles
out of the country, closing some facilities, and intrusive inspections – would
be more a case of “verify” rather than “trust,” he said.
pointed out that the deal with Syria “is far from hollow, and given the fact
that we have no better alternatives in terms of Iran – a completely successful
military strike will not achieve more than a twoto- three-year postponement of
the nuclear program and will have significant consequences, both in terms of the
American response and Iran- Hezbollah’s military responses against Israel – we
should fully support the American effort to reach a reasonable deal with
He added that anyone who thought Iran would have to close down its
nuclear program in its entirety was being unrealistic.
“We have to ensure
– and I believe that there is basic agreement with the US on this – that a
compromise agreement leaves Iran a few years away from a nuclear capability,
thereby hopefully providing both the international community and Israel with
sufficient time to deal with the threat if it reemerges,” he said.