Israel Offers Yardstick to Measure Syria Chemical AccordAmy Teibel
Israeli officials, who have expressed guarded support for a U.S.-Russian agreement to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal, today offered a yardstick by which its success can be measured.
Speaking in an interview with Army Radio, the head of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, Avigdor Liberman, said the country had an accounting of Syria’s chemical facilities against which compliance will be judged.
“We will be able to ascertain Assad’s credibility as early as a week from now, when he hands over to the West a map of chemical weapons sites in his possession,” he said, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “Israel has the ability to compare the information Assad will relay and the information our intelligence agencies possess.”
Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal has been a source of concern for Israel during 2 1/2 years of fighting in Syria, long before the Aug. 21 chemical attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds. The primary worry has been that the weapons could fall into the hands of the Lebanese Hezbollah militant group that fought a monthlong conflict with Israel in 2006, or other anti-Israel groups allied with Syrian rebels.
The U.S. and Russia struck a deal yesterday demanding the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of 2014.
“In theory, the agreement is good for Israel, because Assad will give up thousands of kilograms of chemical weapons, as well as the infrastructure to build it,” Liberman said.
At the same time, Assad “has a very problematic credibility record,” Liberman said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu linked the agreement to international efforts to prevent Iran, a Syrian ally, from becoming a nuclear power.
“We hope the understandings reached between the U.S. and Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons will yield results,” Netanyahu said in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Mideast war. Their success will be gauged by tangible results -- a principle, he said, “that also applies to the international community’s diplomatic efforts to stop the nuclear arming of Iran.” Iran denies its nuclear program is meant to produce weapons.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew today to Israel to brief Netanyahu on the agreement.
Syria and Israel fought three wars since the Jewish state’s establishment in 1948. Multiple efforts to make peace since the 1990s have failed, and Israel continues to hold on to the southern Golan Heights plateau it captured from Syria in 1967 and later annexed in a move that is not internationally recognized.
For the most part, the border has been quiet since 1974, though shells from the Arab country have struck Israel since the Syrian fighting began in 2011, causing no injuries and largely characterized by the Israeli military as stray fire.
The pact on Syria’s chemical arms has revived talk about pressing Israel to declare any weapons of mass destruction it may possess.
Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz had no direct reply when asked today how Israel would respond to pressure to give up non-conventional weapons.
“Israel is a responsible country, a country that needs to defend itself in this difficult region filled with threats,” Steinitz told Army Radio.
While Israel signed the chemical weapons treaty in 1993, it never ratified it. Two decades ago, the U.S. congressional Office of Technology Assessment included Israel in its list of countries that probably or possibly have undeclared chemical weapons.
“We will not accept attempts by the Syrian regime, which is in noncompliance with its safeguards agreement and has used chemical weapons on its own people in violation of international norms, to compare itself to Israel, a thriving democracy which doesn’t brutally slaughter and gas its own people,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Asked what would happen if Russia or the U.S. were to pressure Israel to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Steinitz replied, “Our policy of nuclear ambiguity is known and I won’t say another word.”
Under that policy, Israel neither confirms nor denies having nuclear weapons. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, citing U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency figures, reported in its September/October issue that the Israelis have an arsenal of 80 nuclear warheads that hasn’t been augmented since 2004.
Events in Syria have borne out the wisdom of Israel’s longstanding resistance to signing the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Steinitz said.
“It’s not the international community nor, with all due respect, the U.S. or NATO or the UN that will defend the Jewish people and Israel,” he said. “We have to defend ourselves and rely on ourselves.”