Syria’s chemical weapons confession: Should we have trusted Assad?

As far back as April 2013, Israeli intelligence sources indicated to local press that Bashar al-Assad’s regime was hiding chemical weapons. The reports were not exclusive to Israeli security forces, however. In November 2013, the United States also expressed concern about Syria’s plan to remain in possession of at least some of their chemical weapons to CNN: “There are various threads of information that would shake our confidence…They have done things recently that suggest Syria is not ready to get rid of all their chemical weapons.”

Now, over a year after the U.S.-Russia agreement to destroy Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal was struck, Damascus has announced it possesses at least four other chemical weapons facilities.

The nebulous reports on the matter indicate that three of the previously undisclosed sites are for “research and development” while the other is for “production.”

With the international community distracted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Assad regime must be held accountable for the flagrant violation

Brooklyn Middleton

Putting aside the issue of chlorine – which the West has accused Assad of weaponizing and using against Syrians – the omission of these four sites is a grave breach of the agreement being overseen by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The U.S. State Department spoke in high regard about the agreement, stating that “the world has come together in a historic way to ensure that these weapons can never again be used against the Syrian people.” What followed in the same statement was a list of achieved “milestones.” Absent from the statement was the continued chlorine attacks carried out “systematically and repeatedly” in Syria.

Distracted by ISIS

With the international community distracted by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its continued advancement toward Turkey’s border, the Assad regime must be held accountable for the flagrant violation. The consequences of undisclosed chemical weapons sites are two-fold; the most obvious implication is that we cannot rule out that regime forces will not execute a chemical weapon attack. The other consideration is entirely security related; the Assad regime has proved unable (or totally unwilling) to prevent ISIS from overrunning large swathes of Syrian territory. It cannot be ruled out that the previously undisclosed chemical weapons, stored in previously unknown locations that were previously thought to be destroyed, will be seized by the militant group. Moreover, as the U.S. gathers more information from the Syrian regime on these new sites, it must also execute a plan to monitor movements in the vicinity of the compounds and prevent a repeat of events in 2013.

Only days after the initial agreement was struck, Syrian National Coalition member Kamal al-Labwani indicated to the press that the Assad regime immediately began transferring chemical weapons to various sites across the country in an effort to make inventory of the weapons that much more difficult. Labwani also indicated that the Assad regime facilitated the transfer of at least some of its chemical weapons arsenal to Hezbollah “aboard trucks used to transport vegetables.”

From the beginning, the integrity of the entire deal hinged on whether the Assad regime would truthfully declare its own chemical weapons stockpile. While this was a quixotic plan with consequences easily predicted, the world applauded itself when they thought it achieved a substantial victory. Now that the regime has admitted to circumventing one of the most basic stipulations of the agreement, it should be forced to explain the flagrant violation. Equally as important is that the international community take responsibility for backing a ludicrous deal that relies on Assad to be honest.

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Brooklyn Middleton is an American Political and Security Risk Analyst reporting from Israel. Her work has appeared in Turkish and Israeli publications including The Times of Israel and Hürriyet Daily News. She has previously written about U.S. President Obama's policy in Syria as well as the emerging geopolitical threats Israel faces as it pursues its energy interests in the Eastern Mediterranean. She is currently researching Ayatollah Khomeini’s influence on Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant groups to complete her MA in Middle Eastern Studies. You can follow her on Twitter here: @BklynMiddleton.
 

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:44 - GMT 06:44
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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