The U.S. government has been quietly trying to block arms and oil shipments from Iran to Syria in a bid to accelerate the fall of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, The Wall Street Journal reported early Monday, as Washington declared that it would “hold accountable” any Syrian official involved in the release or use of the country’s chemical weapons.
Citing unnamed U.S. officials, the newspaper said the efforts are aimed at getting Iraq to close its airspace to flights between Iran and Syria flights that U.S. intelligence believes are carrying arms for Syrian pro-government forces.
According to The Journal, Washington has also tried to keep ships believed to carry arms and fuel for Syria from passing through the Suez Canal.
One ship, the Amin, currently seeking permission to enter the canal is owned by a subsidiary of Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, the report said.
U.S. officials are holding talks with the Egyptian government in an effort to block the Amin’s passage, arguing that it isn’t properly flagged and doesn’t have internationally recognized insurance, the paper noted.
It added that the United States also has been providing intelligence about Syria to the Turkish and Jordanian militaries working closely with the rebels.
This information includes imagery from military satellites and other surveillance equipment that provides details about Syrian military sites that could be helpful to the rebels, The Journal pointed out.
U.S. officials acknowledge that despite their efforts, some shipments of arms and fuel for Syria have slipped through.
Syrian chemical weapons
The United States also declared Sunday that it would “hold accountable” any Syrian official involved in the release or use of the country’s chemical weapons.
Fears have been rising in the West after reports that Assad might be prepared to use his arsenal of chemical weapons to save his embattled regime.
The U.S. is “actively consulting with Syria’s neighbors and our friends in the international community to underscore our common concern about the security of these weapons and the Syrian government's obligation to secure them," said White House spokesman James Carney.
“There are a variety of ways that a government or individuals can be held accountable for this kind of behavior that would result in the deliberate release of chemical weapons or use of chemical weapons,” Carney said.
“I wouldn’t want to speculate about what particular measures would be taken.”
An Israeli government official said the country’s leaders have discussed with American envoys how to manage a Syrian government collapse.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that his country would “have to act” if necessary to keep Syria’s vast stockpile of chemical weapons from falling into the hands of militants should the regime in Damascus crumble, The Associated Press reported.
Asked if Israel and the U.S. had discussed managing a Syrian collapse, the Israeli government official said on Monday: “You can presume that these sorts of issues came up with American officials when they visited recently in Israel.”
He gave no details and spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the contents of confidential discussions.
Syria’s defected ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, said in a July 16 interview with the BBC that he was “convinced” Assad would draw on his stocks of chemical weapons if cornered.
Fares’ comments were supported by members of the rebel Syrian Free Army.
Intelligence from the region suggested that chemical weapons were on the move, although the reasons were unclear, according to a report earlier this month by The Wall Street Journal.
Neighboring Jordan’s King Abdullah II also said that in the event of a descent into all-out war, chemical arms could fall into extremist hands, including those of rebel groups.
“Our information is that there is a presence of al-Qaeda in certain regions inside Syria, and has been there for a while,” he told CNN Wednesday.
“And, again, one of the worst case scenarios as we are obviously trying to look for a political solution would be if some of those chemical stockpiles were to fall into unfriendly hands,” he warned.