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Belmont Club

Those Chemical Weapons

March 24th, 2013 - 3:02 pm

“Just before departing for Jordan on Friday, Obama scored a diplomatic coup when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Turkey for a 2010 commando raid that killed nine activists on a Turkish vessel in a Gaza-bound flotilla,”  said CNN.  Prime Minister Netanyahu explained that the urgent need to deal with Syria motivated his call to Erdogan.  But Erdogan’s subsequent response made it appear the apology was the only first payment in a long series of installments now scheduled to be paid.

The Washington Times said that  Erdogan explained, in a public address, that there would be no quick restoration of ties with Israel.

“We have said: ‘An apology will be made, compensation will be paid, and the blockade on Palestine will be lifted. There will be no normalization without these,” he said. “Normalization will happen the moment there is an implementation. But if there is no implementation, then I am sorry.”

These words were characterized as playing to the gallery; that it “was largely seen as effort to ease concerns of his religious and pro-Palestinian support base”.

In form at least Erdogan’s statement sounded an awful lot like ‘your credit card has already been charged, however, we reserve the right not to deliver the product if it is not available or out of stock; your address is not correct or verifiable, there was an error in our price quote or we have reason to believe that you are under 13 years of age.’

More to the point the process of normalization that Erdogan describes can take a long time. But the crisis in Syria may not wait. So taken all in all, was Netanyahu hustled by Obama into an apology? France 24 suggests the narrative is not as it seems: that Israel and Turkey were long looking for a pretext to effect a reconciliation;  that in fact it was Netanyahu who maneuvered Obama into appearing to be the big man of the region.

National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, who played a central role in Israeli efforts to mend the relationship, admitted on Saturday that the chemical weapons threat was a major element.

“We’re in a situation where between us and Turkey there is a country which has chemical weapons and is falling apart, and which probably used chemical weapons with very damaging abilities that could spread throughout the whole region,” he told Channel 2 television.

“The more coordination there is between us and the Turks, the easier it will be to deal with a problem that could explode in our face tomorrow morning.”

He denied that the deal had come about as a result of American pressure, saying it had been an Israeli idea.

“We approached the Americans with it, and the Americans helped us consolidate it with the Turks. There have been talks between us and the Turks for a long while,” he said.

Israel’s immediate fear was clearly Hezbollah. The Jerusalem Post carried an article in January 2013 quoting Saudi sources saying that “Syrian President Bashar Assad has been transferring weapons to Hezbollah since the beginning of 2012, including two tons of mustard gas and long-range missiles capable of carrying chemical warheads and traveling 300 kilometers.”

But geography raises the interesting question of how Turkey could possibly help interdict the arms route from Syria to Hezbollah. It was out of the way. Turkey is in Syria’s north, far from the southerly route which leads directly into Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Moreover, the Christian Science Monitor suggests that it was Turkey which needed Israel’s help in finding the chemical weapons rather than vice-versa.

“Turkey’s intelligence assets are not anywhere near Israeli intelligence assets,” says Michael Koplow, an analyst of Turkish and Israeli affairs at the Israel Institute in Washington, who recently returned from a two-week trip to Turkey.

“The Turks don’t want to be caught with chemical weapons deployed in Aleppo, which is only 50 miles from Turkish border, and not know about it ahead of time,” says Mr. Koplow, author of the blog Ottomans and Zionists. “It’s at a point where they need the Israelis’ cooperation.”

So why approach Turkey? What did Netanyahu hope to take delivery of from Ankara by allowing it to charge his diplomatic credit card? Perhaps nothing.  Quite  literally nothing. One possibility is that Israel has purchased Ankara’s inaction — the undertaking to do nothing — in the coming drama.

Erdogan’s job is to turn a blind eye to whatever he’s not supposed to see. However this still leaves open the mystery of who will do the heavy lifting if Assad collapses. Somebody obviously, but who?

ABC News quoted outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as saying that US troops would not secure Syrian weapons in “a hostile atmosphere”. It quoted Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Dempsey who “said he’d recently spoken with his Turkish, Israeli, Lebanese and Jordanian counterparts, with the intent of ‘messaging’ that those inside Syria responsible for any use of chemical weapons would be held accountable.”

That still doesn’t explain who does anything physical. If the US won’t do it, neither could Israel. An occupation of Syria in the force required to secure the weapons would be beyond Israel’s capability, not to mention likely to inflame the region. This is the missing piece. The piece that no one seems to be able to find.

Perhaps that is because the Queen is on the other side of the chessboard.  The Wall Street Journal writes that John Kerry is learning that in strategy as in real estate location is everything.  There were consequences to redeploying from the Middle East to Afghanistan. “The strategic cost of President Obama’s election-driven total withdrawal from Iraq is now becoming clearer. On Sunday Secretary of State John Kerry was reduced to pleading with Iraqi officials to search Iranian flights that fly over Iraq on their way to arming Bashar Assad’s Syrian government. ”

One of those consequences was that American power would be stuck in landlocked Southwest Asia rather than available for action in the Middle East with a major port to its rear.

At best, the partial rapproachment between Israel and Turkey simply removes one more obstacle to action. It does not solve the problem of who bells the cat.


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In the ancient days, modern Iraq and Syria were typically unified - with the coast/ Levant sometimes in sometimes out of the deal.

It would make perfect sense for north and east Syria to fold into Iraq at this time. Such a re-draw would re-balance Iraq -- into a three-way muslim stand-off.

Lebanon could extend northwards to Turkey -- or an Alawite nation could be formed in the Levant.

Such a cleavage would provide opportunities for most of the sectarian factions to displace without going all that far.

As for Damascus and down to Dara'a: they may make much more sense as a part of northern Jordan.

It was the Europeans (Britain and France) that split Jordan from Syria in the first place. They chose, surprisingly, the narrow gauge Hejaz railway line running from Dara'a to Haifa as one of the division lines. (Probably because it was a fixed, surveyed, improvement in a sea of sand.)

[Muslims now would not promote its memory, but the Hejaz Railway was first laid down at Haifa's dock. (1901AD IIRC) Using imported equipment, unloaded there, it proceeded east to reach Dara'a; made famous in the film Laurence of Arabia. Dara'a had the requisite bounty of water so essential to steam locomotives. Other than than, it was a dead head, Dara'a was an end of the line. (East)

Having built the west-east line, the Turks began building south to the Hejaz. (Mecca and Medina) Only after the south leg was done did the Turks turn towards linking north to Damascus. To read current, politicized, accounts, one might think that the Hejaz Railway started from Damascus south -- and Haifa was not involved.

Today, many of the old railway structures have been paved over as roadbed.

For the longest time, the damage done by Laurence and Company lay about in the desert. Once the Turk was gone, the Arabs had absolutely no desire to repair the Hejaz Railway.]

========

The mullahs regard the Hez as 'a foot on far' -- to kick the Israelis with. At the front of their minds is the possibility that the Hez will be lost -- their best leverage for primacy in the Shia-Sunni feud.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There are many wild cards in the Middle East. The Kurds rank high on the list. If the Israelis attack the Iranians and Hezbollah with the tacit support of the Kurds, or even has the potential to ally with the disaffected minorities across the region from Beirut to Baku, what can the Turks do?

It is possible that the Islamist position is weaker than the counsel of our fears leads us to believe. Instead of a new Caliphate in Istanbul we may see a reaction against the Islamists as their project crashes. Note that I do not say that the Israelis can build lasting security from such weak reeds but they could possibly frustrate those seeking hegemony.

The dream of global Imperial dominance based on oil revenue, dreams that inspired both Muslim and Russian ambitions, is running out of gas. Without the energy supplied by energy the dinosaur empires may implode and fragment.

It is likely that what will follow is a highly fragmented series of mini-polities engaged in a Hobessian war of all against all. Maps of the region, or for that matter maps of Europe, from the pre-modern age may prove useful. The future may resemble the 15th century.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If there's a next flotilla Israel should put a net around the boat's propellers, if that's possible.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Washington Post describes the "challenges" facing the administration.

“If we had to go in tomorrow, I’d say we aren’t ready,” said an Obama administration official involved in preparations for securing Syria’s chemical weapons. “One thing we want to avoid is having one group securing the sites and another group bombing them.”

The level of uncertainty surrounding U.S. contingency planning two years into a conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people contrasts with the clarity of Obama’s repeated admonitions to the government of President Bashar al-Assad. ...

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, mocked Obama in a series of appearances last week. In a PBS interview, he said that the U.S. threshold for action ”can’t be a pink line. It can’t be a dotted line. It can’t be an imaginary line.”

If I were Congressman Rogers, I would be grateful for an imaginary line. The one to watch out for is the imaginary, imaginary line.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/backing-up-obamas-warnings-to-syria-creates-tough-challenges-on-two-fronts/2013/03/24/95cd5570-9314-11e2-a31e-14700e2724e4_story.html

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When US citizen Ghassan Hitto was picked to head the Syrian rebel coalition, the papers announced he was "more Texan than Muslim Brotherhood"

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/19/world/middleeast/syria-warplanes-hit-lebanon-for-first-time.html

But others say he is more Muslim Brotherhood than Texan. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/last-stop-dallas-next-stop-damascus-ghassan-hitto--the-it-executive-who-wants-to-govern-syria-8541302.html

But as VOA points out the rebels are in disarray. "Syrian Opposition in Turmoil as Khatib Quits, Hitto Rejected " (http://www.voanews.com/content/syrian-opposition-in-turmoil-khalib-quits-hitto-rejected/1627690.html)

" The opposition's turmoil deepened, with a rebel spokesman inside Syria saying the mainstream Free Syrian Army refuses to recognize Hitto as prime minister. Louay Almokdad told Western news agencies that Hitto was not properly elected because there was no consensus on his candidacy.

Other rebels have said they do not need a prime minister because they already are governing areas under their control.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he was sorry to hear of Khatib's resignation. But, speaking in Baghdad Sunday, the top U.S. diplomat said the Syrian opposition is "bigger than one person" and leadership changes within it are "almost inevitable." Kerry said Washington has worked closely with Hitto in the delivery of aid to Syria and has confidence in his abilities."

Any pretense that the administration has this process under control must now be questioned. It's a work in progress.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It looks like Syria is already fragmented. The post-Assad era has begun. And what it looks like is patchwork of militia fiefdoms. The administration has already missed the boat to midwifing a unified successor state. Welcome to chaos.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
""" The post-Assad era has begun. And what it looks like is patchwork of militia fiefdoms. """

I said as much on anumber of occasions, and not because I are a genius (I are definitely not), but because it all was fitting a classic pattern repeated many times in the past. Which begs the question: why couldn't people in positions of power who MUST be way smarter (certainly way more credentialed) than me not get that?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I still don't understand why fragmentation is a bad thing from the US point of view. Assad was already supporting terrorists; he helped ship Al Qaeda jihadis into Iraq the entire time our troops were there. Fragmentation means that there is NO military force capable of operating in a coordinated way outside of Syria's borders; it means weakness for Hezbollah as they expend their energies on their Shiite rivals. What's more, both sides hate America and Israel, and always will.
So how can we do anything other than hope both sides continue to slaughter each other for years to come?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Anybody at this time that believes anything 0bama or anyone in his administration actually say's is a fool! You can't count the number of unflinching bold face lies that have spewed from the suite himself, or from his talking heads! Everything about 0bama is an illusion, the only thing that you can rely on is 0bama's actions... 0bama hasn't made a move that didn't do anything but butter his own bread, 0bama certainly hasn't made one foreign policy move that was good for America and her allies in his entire political career! Israel seems to be trying to keep 0bama involved while also moving possible enemies into at least a neutral position, the questions become has Japan, South Korea learned this yet?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Daniel Halper at the Weekly Standard speculates that Obama went to Israel to give Netanyahu some sort of "go ahead". You will recall that his last attempts to negotiate with the Iranians on the nukes were said by dplomats to be 'going nowhere'.

http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/did-obama-give-israel-go-ahead-syria_708907.html

Add to this the President's willingness to say that Iran will get its nuke in a year; further add his decision to defend against North Korea and place, like a teetring cherry on top, Kerry's groveling tour through the region and you have the picture of a man face to face with mortal danger.

Maybe now we can piece together a partial explanation for the recent past. Clinton and Obama finally realized the enormity of their blunder. Clinton's departure in part reflects that admission. But by now the situation is so grave that even by countermarching Obama will be lucky to escape a catastrophe.

The press is now slowly waking to the extent of the debacle. Out of political loyalty they will continue to minimize the extent of the smash. Maybe they'll even find a way to blame Bush. The problem is that nobody knows how far the fire will go.

The main danger now is that with US forces off the board, Israel alone lacks the power to stamp out the flames and will only succeed in fanning them. Interestingly, a Saudi TV station has called for Sunni-Shi'ite civil war in Lebanon. (http://www.thearabdigest.com/2013/03/saudi-tv-calls-for-sunni-shiite-war-in.html) That gives you an insight into the mentality of the players.

I think historians will look back at Obama's Cairo Speech in the light of events that followed it and will be undecided about whether to laugh or to cry.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't think Obama has ever perceived anything. He's nothing but a superficial Flower-Power child who refuses to grow up. He doesn't care about anybody except Himself.

If there is a change (and that's a big IF) it is because the Clintons or Clintonites are starting to take the reins of Obama, OFA and the DNC.

The whole thing is spiraling.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Queen is actually on Israel side and I mean the Kurds.

Nobody wants this conflict to explode or 'metastasize' and at some point Bibi knew some form of apology will be extracted from him (I'm sure most of us know about honor-shame and Islam).

The fact Erdogan rebuffed the gesture is (or at least should) also be expected since this is how a good Islamist behaves.

Thing is, Israel's borders are not secure any longer and inducing an unnecessary tension up-North will be stupid.

Obviously Netanyahu behaved like a leader while Erdogan is nothing but your average Islamist.

I hope Israel will extend this goodwill to Iraq as well.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is not a problem whereby someone holds the key to prediction of the future. It can only be dealt with as building defences against possibilities.

Obama made a policy shift. This is nothing like the Cairo speech. That failed miserably. The speeches in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv produced results. I am impressed.

So Jewish blah blah idiots who voted for him (I am Jewish but did not) are maybe not so stupid when it comes to Israel. My issues with him are domestic and not concerning Israel.

US president making the most Zionist statements ever? Check
Full military and economic cooperation? Check
Strategic goal of breaking ice with Turkey? So far looks better
Iran? We will see

Looks like a good week.







1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Christian Science Monitor is charting Kerry's painful humiliation. "Kerry wants Iraq to stop arms shipments to Syria. Why would Iraq agree? "

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Backchannels/2013/0324/Kerry-wants-Iraq-to-stop-arms-shipments-to-Syria.-Why-would-Iraq-agree

"In the early days of the US occupation of Iraq, both America and Iraq's nascent leaders were united in their fury at Assad, who at minimum tolerated a flow of jihadis through his territory to feed the insurgency (since senior US officials had mooted the possibility of invading Syria after Iraq, tying US forces down next door made sense to Assad).

Ten years later, the situation has changed. Iraq's government may not have any particular love for Assad, but fears what might come next, far more than the US does."

Perhaps, despite the outward show of invincibility, Obama has had a "come to Jesus" or "come to Allah moment" -- maybe it doesn't matter. He's in a spot and is looking for a way out. But there's every possibility that he's left it for too late.

It happens sometimes.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If chemical weapons have already been transferredto Hezbollah, then the rubicon has already been crossed. A search and destroy operation in Syria for those chemical weapons would cost billiions of dollars, take months, and require at least 75,000 men, according to the Pentagon. It will not happen. Of course, Obama would have been splendidly positioned to secure those weqpons - had he not withdrawn from Iraq.

Israel's best bet is to develop tactical nuclear artillery (if she has not done so already) and announce that chemical weapons attack will be met with a nuclear response. (Since this is officially US doctrine as well, no one should complain). Israel should not count on any other country, certainly not Turkey, caring what happens to her.

Possibly, this whole apology thing is meant to clear the air for some secondary action, perhaps air strikes on known or suspected chemicall weapons depots... or possibly commando raids intended to secure and destroy as much of Assads arsenal as possible.

Regardless, I will make one prediction. Obama will continue to lead from his behind, claiming credit if things work out well, and blaming others if not.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Possibly someone sold the administration on the idea that things could be done on the cheap. The Arab Spring would be the vehicle. A little Twitter here, a little Twitter there. Get Qatar and KSA to supply weapons; perhaps at most a few strikes to take out the air defenses of a regime. That's all smart people needed to remake things.

The need for stabilization operations were forgotten. The need to ensure control over a successor regime was disregarded. The lessons Truman knew, which resulted in the patient rebuilding of Western Europe were lost to memory.

One can't help but think of Castries at Dien Bien Phu, confident that his counterbattery would smash any Vietminh response. Or of Goering promising that airdrops could supply Stalingrad. The price of getting in over your head is high.

The administration started or stood by while a major upheaval was under way in the Middle East while simultaneously transferring the bulk of its deployable strength to a landlocked theater thousands of miles away. In so doing it closed off options; options it may not have exercised but would have had available at a pinch. But now they are simply not there.



1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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