Barbarians Versus Barbarians in Syria

One order from Assad and chemical weapons will rain down on the country.

At least forty thousand people have lost their lives to date during the 21-month war in Syria. The war has turned into a life-and-death struggle between the barbarian Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime and its barbarian Islamist adversaries. Every day brings fresh evidence of atrocities committed by both sides. Innocent civilians living within Syria and the surrounding region are caught in the middle.

The latest outrage is the Assad regime's reported preparation of chemical weapons for use in wiping out its enemies, irrespective of civilian casualties, as a last resort to stave off the regime's collapse.

Syria has loaded deadly sarin gas materials into chemical warheads. All that remains is an order by Assad to load the warheads onto dozens of fighter bombers and launch an attack on the rebel forces.

Sarin is the same lethal chemical agent that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used to kill 5,000 Kurds with one attack in 1988.  Ex-CIA agent Robert Baer was quoted as telling CNN that a Syrian city such as Homs, with a population of about a million people, could lose a third of the people in a few hours from a chemical attack.

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have warned the Syrian regime that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a "red line" for which there would be severe consequences. But whatever consequences the Obama administration has in mind may well be too late to save thousands of civilians from the lethal consequences of a chemical attack.

Russia is reportedly softening its support for Assad because of the chemical weapons threat and has been conducting talks with the United States on possible diplomatic moves to help ease Assad from power. Secretary of State Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavro met with UN Special Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi on December 6th in Dublin to discuss whether there was a viable path forward for a political transition in Syria as proposed by Brahimi.

In his statement to the press following the Dublin meeting, Brahmi said:

"I have taken the opportunity of this conference to ask the Foreign Ministers of the United States and Russia to get together with me to discuss the very, very, very bad situation in Syria.

I am discussing this situation with all the countries that I call that have influence and interest or both – and definitely this is the case for Russia and the United States.

"We have discussed therefore the situation in Syria and we have also talked a little bit about how we can work out, hopefully, a process that will get Syria back from the brink, to put together a peace process..."

The bottom line, however, was that there were no "sensational decisions" reached at the meeting.

Given the chemical warfare threat, the U.S. may not wait for a diplomatic solution. The London Times reports that the Obama administration is "ready to launch military action in Syria 'within days' if President Assad resorts to mobilising chemical weapons in an attempt to repel rebel forces trying to seize Damascus."

Assad is only one side of the barbarian equation. The Obama administration has backed the arming of rebel groups in Syria through channels set up by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, even though we did not know whether the recipients were friends or foes. According to a front page article in the New York Times on December 6th, the administration is finally waking up to the fact that some of these weapons are ending up in the hands of Islamic jihadists:

"The Obama administration did not initially raise objections when Qatar began shipping arms to opposition groups in Syria, even if it did not offer encouragement, according to current and former administration officials. But they said the United States has growing concerns that, just as in Libya, the Qataris are equipping some of the wrong militants."

The jihadists will inevitably turn those weapons against the "infidels" in Syria and against us, as happened after the Obama administration looked the other way when Islamic jihadists in Libya were armed during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. The difference in Syria is that the danger does not end with standard conventional weapons in the hands of al Qaeda fighters seeking to topple the Assad regime. They may get their hands on the Assad regime's chemical weapons if the regime crumbles.

The Obama administration is finally waking up to this danger as well. "Our concerns are that an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons,  or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria,” Secretary of State Clinton said at the conclusion of NATO ministerial meetings in Brussels this week.

However, the unintended consequence of ousting Assad by whatever means, without simultaneously securing all of his vast chemical weapons stockpile, may be the turn-over of these weapons of mass destruction to al Qaeda. Also, on his way out, Assad may order his forces who stay behind to transfer chemical weapons to Hezbollah and Iran's Revolutionary Guards who are still in Syria.

Outside of Syria itself, Israel is the country in the region most likely to be at the greatest risk from chemical weapons used by either the Assad or jihadist barbarians.

Just as mortar shells spilled over into Israeli territory during the fighting between Syrian government and opposition forces, chemical weapons do not observe national boundaries. Moreover, Syria still considers itself to be "in a state of war with Israel" whom it regards as its "main enemy," quoting the  Syrian UN Ambassador H.E. Dr. Bashar Ja'afari in side remarks he made to another UN correspondent and myself on the day that the UN General Assembly passed the resolution upgrading the Palestinians' status to an observer state.

The Syrian ambassador sounded his war drum against Israel off camera to just the two of us, after sounding a more moderate note while briefing many more UN correspondents on camera. In his on camera briefing, he generally supported Brahimi's plan for a cease fire and a transition but said that the violence perpetrated by Arab countries against Syria must first stop. Only off camera did he brand Israel, not the terrorists or the Arab countries arming them, as Syria's "main enemy" with whom Syria remains in "a state of war."

Facing such pathological thinking, Israel has every reason to be concerned that, if Assad decides to drop chemical weapons on his own people, he won't hesitate to include some Israeli civilians in his carnage.  Nevertheless, Israel will be prepared to mitigate casualties from an air attack with chemical weapons launched by Assad, according to an Israeli intelligence expert with twenty-five years of experience in the field.  Lt. Col. (res.) Mordechai Kedar told Arutz Sheva in an exclusive interview on December 6th that if the gas is in an aerial bomb, it is “very easy to deal with. The Air Force knows very well how to deal with such things. An aerial bomb is a traditional weapon,” he said, even when it is carrying a payload of sarin. “Missiles are much faster,” he added, “but still they too can be dealt with.”

Terrorists present a different sort of challenge because of the variety of ways they can introduce chemical weapons surreptitiously.

Chemical weapons left behind if Assad does leave Syria may fall into the hands of Hezbollah and Iran, which won't hesitate to use them against Israel.

Al Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist jihadists, whose sophisticated arms will put them in the best position to fill the power vacuum left behind by Assad's departure, may also threaten Israel with any chemical weapons they get their hands on. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri specifically linked al Qaeda's jihad in Syria with the ongoing fight against Israel.

“Supporting jihad in Syria to establish a Muslim state is a basic step towards Jerusalem,” Zawahiri said last September. Earlier in the year, he called upon jihadists to "Establish a state that defends the Muslim countries, seeks to free the Golan, and continues Jihad until the flag of victory is raised above the usurped hills of al-Quds [mosque in Jerusalem]."

Israel is working closely with the United States as the Syrian crisis deepens. Israeli intelligence and other agencies have been “working this problem round the clock,” CNN reported.  In addition, Israel's home grown sophisticated air defense technology, demonstrated successfully in the Iron Dome's interception of missiles launched from Gaza, may prove useful to the U.S. and its other allies in intercepting planes and missiles armed with chemical weapons in mid-air before they can do extensive damage.

In a region seething with barbarian dictators and barbarian Islamist jihadists who value death over life, the one island of sanity and true democracy is Israel. The United States needs a viable Israel as our closest steadfast ally in this cauldron, as much as Israel needs the United States to remain that way.

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