A minister in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Cabinet publicly asserted that Bashar al-Assad and his forces used chemical weapons, and not the rebels in the Damascus suburb, and used them on a mass scale. International Relations Minister Yuval Steintz said it was “crystal clear” that the Syrian army used chemical weapons in the attack last week, arguing that this demonstrates why it is important to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons:
It is “crystal clear” that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons five days ago in an attack that killed hundreds of people, International Relations Minister Yuval Steintz said Monday.
Although it is true that this is not the first time Assad has used chemical weapons, Steinitz said, saying he has used them two or three times in the past, this is the first time he has used them on a mass scale.
Steinitz, speaking at a press conference sponsored by the Jerusalem Press Club, said that this was the first time chemical weapons were used on a mass scale against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them two decades ago.
Picking up on a theme Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu first spoke of publicly on Sunday, Steinitz said that “what happened in Syria should remind us how dangerous it is if Iran is able to complete its military nuclear project and produce atomic bombs.”
Steinitz said that just as the Syrians used chemical weapons against their own people, the Iranians are capable of using nuclear weapons because, like the Syrians, they have “no moral compunctions.”
Why is Steintz so convinced it was Assad and not the al-Qaeda affiliates who deployed the chemical weapons? According to the German news magazine Focus, the IDF intercepted high-level communications in the Syrian government at the time, and has the record of orders to use the weapons:
“According to the findings of Israeli intelligence community, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the gas attack in Damascus,” reports the publication.
According to FOCUS, the Israel Defense Forces Unit 8200, the IDF’s signals intelligence unit, had intercepted communications of the Syrian army during the attack.
“A former Mossad officer told FOCUS the analysis has clearly shown that the bombardment with poison gas missiles was made by Syrian government forces,” reports the publication.
A professor at the Naval War College noted on Twitter that the findings were quickly shared with the US and other Western allies, and took a parting dig at Glenn Greenwald:
Or, in Greenwaldese: Israeli SIGINT violation of Assad's "private communication" was illegally shared with rogue intel partners.
— John Schindler (@20committee) August 25, 2013
That won’t leave the US and the UN with too many options — and it won’t leave the Syrians with too many, either. Bloomberg notes that Assad is hoping Russia can bail Syria out of this jam:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he expects Russia to ensure the neutrality of a United Nations probe into the alleged use of chemical weapons by his army in the war against rebels.
Assad, in an interview with Russian newspaper Izvestia, said the result of any U.S. military attack on Syria “will meet the same fate that the U.S. has met since its war in Vietnam: failure,” according to a transcript carried by the state-run Sana news agency.
Ahem. Perhaps Assad might take a look towards his east, where his former Ba’athist colleague used to reign with an iron and bloody fist — until ten years ago or so, when the US military showed up and eventually pulled Saddam Hussein from a hole in the ground and handed him over to his victims. He could look at Libya, too, where the US indeed shot itself in the foot, but that didn’t provide much comfort to Moammar Qaddafi.
Even Russia might be disinclined to assist after today’s attack on the UN inspection team:
Sniper fire hit a vehicle used by a U.N. chemical weapons investigation team in Syria multiple times on Monday, according to the United Nations. The team “returned safely back to the government checkpoint,” a U.N. statement said. The team is replacing the vehicle and will return to the area, it said.
It’s possible that the snipers are rebels looking to stir things up. If the IDF has it right, though, it’s also possible that it’s the army doing the sniping, in order to dissuade the inspection team from checking the evidence left after the attack.