Syrian chemical weapons. What does the new deal mean?

So finally there has been a breakthrough and a deal made between Syria, Russia and the USA with regard to Syrian CW. On the surface it looks like a good thing and if you take it at face value then for certain it can only be good that there is one less way for Assad/Russia/Iran to kill civilians in Syria.

On the other hand, you have to remember that all sides of this deal all have their own political strategy and these haven’t changed. The USA still wants to see Syria divided up into three parts. Russia and Iran are working as business partners and their objective is to increase their dominance in the middle east. Syria is being used like a pawn in a chess game. Assad himself is little more that a figurehead these days, a marionette with Iran and Russia working together to pull the strings.

If we look at the terms of the deal it raises lots of questions but also gives an insight into the objectives of all the parties involved. I give my opinions based on my own observations and analysis as well as my understanding of the psychology and political thinking of the various parties.

Under the terms of the deal brokered in Geneva, Assad has a week to account for his CW stockpile, type, location and quantity etc. This raises the first question, nobody knows exactly how much CW Assad holds, any declaration he makes is going to have to be accepted at face value as there is no way to prove otherwise. Can he be trusted to make a full declaration of his CW assets? Further to this, just how do UN inspectors expect to be able to carry out their work, to examine if Assad is telling the truth or not, this is after all a conflict zone? This last factor gives the possibility for so many delaying tactics, if security of the UN inspectors can’t be guaranteed then how are they supposed to carry out their work?

As for the Syrian rebels, they see the talks in Geneva and subsequent deal as simply buying more time for Assad and view with high suspicion the motivations of the deal that has been made.  Therefore it is highly unlikely that they will agree to a temporary ceasefire in order for the UN to go into the country. The rebels view all the talk about CW as very hypocritical and political maneuvering, for the rebels there is no difference between Assad killing women and children with bombs and bullets rather than chemical weapons. If the west were serious about stopping the killing of innocents it would have stepped in a long time ago.

Russia is playing the better political game at the moment but it is early days and you can be sure that there will be a lot of pushing backwards and forwards between the USA and Russia over the next few month as they fight their proxy war in Syria. Russia certainly doesn’t have a problem with Assad using chemical weapons, when Chechen rebels took hundreds of hostages in a Moscow theatre a few years ago they used gas knowing that many innocent hostages would die. For the Russians, it was more important to kill Chechen separatists than save the lives of innocent theatre goers. So Assad has no pressure from the Russians about his use of gas. As long as you create the appearance of trying to do the right thing, this is all that matters.

The USA went with this deal because it gives them the perfect get out clause, they are no longer committed to air strikes on Syrian regime CW assets, not that they ever really wanted to in the first place. Syrian air defense systems are pretty strong and are getting stronger through the installation of Russian made S-300 system. Russia has its advisers on the ground training the Syrians on how to use the system, if the USA were to attack and destroy one of these installations and Russians were subsequently killed then the USA and Russia would be brought into direct conflict and that is a situation that neither side can afford. At the same time the USA wants the war in Syria to keep going for as long as possible as a way of getting Iran to commit more and more resources, human and weapon, thereby making Iran weaker as the financial costs of this conflict build up. What we are seeing is that the USA is getting more weapons than before to the FSA, which is forcing Iran to spend more money on helping Assad. Will this strategy work? Time will tell.

Then we come to Iran, so far they are the biggest winners in the Syrian conflict. The world’s eyes are toward Syria as they continue a pace and much closer to completion the development of their nuclear capability. They have two objectives that I know of with regard to Syria. The first is colonial, Iran has always had a desire to dominate the middle east, they desire to have once again a Persian empire. Assad miscalculated when he became President and allowed the Iranians deep inside the workings of the country, politically, militarily and economically. Now Assad is little more than a puppet on a string. Of course he would like to think that he is in control but he lost that a while ago. The second of Iran’s objectives is to keep the world occupied with Syria while it works on completing its nuclear development program. The new Iranian President Rouhani portrays the face of moderation and is warmer to the west but this is all part of the Iranian game of smoke and mirrors. Rouhani doesn’t have the real power, that belongs to the Ayatollahs and the Republican guard and their objectives have not changed. Rouhani is simply a delaying tactic. The USA thinks helping the FSA will force Iran to spend more money than it can afford on supporting Assad with weapons and fighters and Iran is pouring more resources into Syria to keep the USA busy as it hurries to get nuclear capability. Iran and Russia have a business partnership based on economics, oil, gas and weapons and geo-strategy, political influence and weakening the influence of the USA in the middle east.

Ok, time for a scenario, time will tell if I am right or wrong but based on my understanding of the different actors involved, I think there is a real possibility that something along these lines will happen. As nobody knows exactly how much CW Assad has or where he has it, we can make a safe assumption that the UN will not be able to take control of all the chemical weapons.  What I believe will happen is that some time after the UN has taken control of the declared CW assets one of two things will happen, maybe even both. Assad will use chemical weapons against an Alawite town or village. These weapons will be from part of the hidden stockpile that he didn’t declare or he will use his own people to make a raid on a UN guarded CW facility to steal them and at the same time make it look like it was the rebels who made this attack. Why would he do this? Assad has in the past killed those on his side that were no longer useful if he thought it could give him a propaganda advantage. He would be able to say, tongue in cheek, that all CW are under control of the UN so it isn’t possible that he launched the attack, much less so on people from his own tribe. It would be a huge propaganda coup for him on a global scale. You must also remember that the majority of the Alawites are also treated badly by the Syrian regime, it is only a small minority that have the wealth and power. Most Alawites are poor just like the majority of the Syrian population. The regime made the Alawites fear the Sunni majority in order to create a sectarian division, the fear that the Sunni would slaughter them if they ever came to power, this guaranteed that these poorly educated people have followed Assad not out of love and loyalty to a family member but out of fear that the treatment from the Sunni would be worse than that they already receive.  Assad despises the majority of Alawites only slightly less than he despises the Sunni. Killing a few thousand Alawite and making it look as if the rebels did it would be like a wet dream come true for Assad.

If Assad can pull this off then it would be a huge political and propaganda win for him. World opinion would shift and the rebels would lose a lot of good will but more importantly the USA would have serious egg on its face as it gets accused of supporting rebels who have finally been ‘proven’ to have used chemical weapons. This would put America in a very difficult and much weakened position on the international stage, Russia and Iran would wet their pants laughing at the USA as they build up their own global influence.

As I have said in a previous post, what is happening in Syria is no longer about revolution but rather a battlefield that is being used by two superpowers to try and outsmart and out maneuver each other in their battle to increase their global power and influence.

If you have any questions then please leave a comment or send me a private message.

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Assad just announced he will hand over chemical weapons. What does it mean?

There are 2 ways of looking at this announcement. The first is that he really is going to hand everything over. The second is that he only hand part of his CW stockpile over and save the rest for use another time.

You have to look at the logistics of what he has said he will do. Is he saying that he will allow the CW to be taken out of the country or is he saying that he will allow inspectors to make sure that nobody can take them out of the storage facilities?

Before answering these questions I should tell you what I know about the different factions of the opposition to Assad in Syria, moderate and extremist. When I was in Syria I met everybody from FSA to extreme Islamist group Jabhat al Nusra. I didn’t meet anybody from Al Qaeda because when I was there earlier this year there were so few they were virtually invisible. Of all my conversations with the different factions we always got into conversations about chemical weapons. When I was there back in the spring, everyone told me, from moderate to extreme Islamist that even if they got their hands on these weapons they would never use them. The moderate FSA is no fan of the extremists but they know them well enough to believe them, that they will not use these weapons. If they did the population would destroy them, the extreme Islamists are too small in number to risk provoking the wrath of 25 million Syrians. For now they are only tolerated because they fight against the Syrian regime. The FSA would never consider doing anything that would kill the people it is fighting for.

If Assad is saying he will get the chemical weapons out of Syria it will be a logistical nightmare, moving an enormous stockpile through the middle of a war zone will be difficult to say the least. I’m also suggesting that the announcement made today is simply a game of smoke and mirrors. He has already used CW on Syrian civilians. It is quite possible to imagine he will do it again. Assad has no qualms about killing even those relatively close to him if it will give a propaganda or political gain.

If inspectors are allowed into the country they will only be shown and given control of a part of the stockpile. Then at a time that suits him he will attack an Alawite town with CW, they are the same tribe as him, he will kill thousands more than in the chemical attack in Damascus. Claiming that all his CW is under the control of international inspectors he will try to make it look as if it was the rebels who made the attack. What will probably happen is that Syria, Russian and Iran will say that the USA is supporting terrorists in the use of chemical weapons in Syria. As a result Syria will ask for international intervention, specifically Russia to help it get rid of the ‘terrorists’. Russia would be complicit in this, they have no qualms about using chemical weapons on their own people. When Chechens took hundreds of Russians hostage in a Moscow theater a few years ago the Russian authorities had no problem using gas in the knowledge that many innocent people would die. The Russian government has a very dim view of its subjects, for them it was more important to kill Chechens than save lives of ordinary Russians. So they have no problem with Assad using chemical weapons.

Another possibility is that Assad will make a show of getting the CW out of the country but it will only be a part. International inspectors will have no way of proving otherwise and then any subsequent chemical attack can be blamed on ‘terrorists’ with the same results.

The final question has to be, if Assad doesn’t use chemical weapons again then what else is he planning with Russia and Iran? If that is their strategy then we are moving into a very dangerous yet predictable area. Don’t forget either that the USA want to keep this war going for as long as possible, they see it as the best way to weaken Iran as it will have to keep on committing more resources to this war if it wants to win.

Syria: US intervention, Iran and Russia. Part 2

I received an email commenting on my previous post which I would like to show as well as my comment. I hope you find it interesting.

The email I received:

This is a very interesting post/analysis and I agree with you on many parts.
I am a Syrian Political studies student at the American University of Beirut
I agree with you for the most part regarding the fact that there is a bigger “plan” for the whole region with outside interests and that the events in Syria will define the path of this “plan”.

However, I would have liked to read about the US interests in the region as well, and not only Russia and Iran’s. Also, as far as I know and based on what I read, the evidence regarding the CW attack is not conclusive and does not point to one side. However, in the beginning, you seemed very convinced that it is an Iran-backed attack by the regime.
Can you please give me your input regarding these points?

My reply:

Thanks for your comments. I will try my best to answer your questions. Before I do though I want to say that I have many friends in Syria and this was part of my motivation for going. I wanted to see the reality on the ground. It breaks my heart to see the country torn apart. I don’t know if you are pro Assad or pro revolution, in the end we are all people and there has been too much death, I think that you will agree with me when I say that 99% of the Syrian people have had enough and just want to live in peace.

You asked about the US interest in the area. It was always pro Assad because relations between him and Israel were stable, Syria was no immediate threat. The fear of the US is if Assad is toppled then who will be running the country and how will they view Israel. Seeing as political opposition to Assad is confused to say the least there is no way of knowing who would get the government and what actions they might take.

Aside from this, when the revolution became an armed conflict with Iran and Hezbollah getting involved from the very start, the US saw this as an opportunity to make Iran and Hezbollah bleed in Syria. So the US helps the FSA, never enough to help them make any big wins but enough to help them resist and continue fighting. The longer this goes on the more resources Iran and its proxy Hezbollah have to put into the war. Even Israel helps the FSA sometimes if fighting gets too close to the border.

My opinion is that the US has made a big miscalculation of the situation and the strategy of limited help to the FSA will not pay off in the end. If things continue the way they are now then Iran will win this war. As you are probably already aware the US plan has always been to divide Syria into different parts and by doing so make it weaker. The Kurds get the northeast as they already have. The west of the country from Damascus up through Homs to Tartous and Latakia will remain under the control of Assad. The south with its fresh water will be allowed to go to Jordan. Jordan will give citizenship to the Syrians living in this area. As for the rest of the country it will be left to the various Sunni and Shia militias to fight it out. The US idea being to create a balance of power between Sunni and Shia from north to south and east to west which cancels each other out. It is a balance that will never happen. Iran wants the entire country and will not stop until it has it. This is the US miscalculation, Iran can do it, it is now in a good relationship with Russia which has the view that the enemy of my enemy is my friend and will help Iran just so they can give a black eye to the US. The US and Russia have never been further apart at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia under Putin is feeling the need to flex its muscles and extend its influence.

Moving on to the CW situation, my friends in Damascus saw some of the dead, all asphyxiated. Only CW would have done that, a hypobaric bomb will suck the air out of your lungs but the blast injuries would be very apparent. The dead were unmarked. Of course they are going to say results for CW usage are inconclusive. Sarin for example is an organic compound that degrades quite rapidly after deployment. By the time inspectors eventually got to the site all physical evidence of CW would have degraded so much there would be nothing to find. One of the things that Iran is doing is using Syria as a testing ground for new weapons and warfare technique. CW is simply a part of that experimentation.