With reports that Syria’s chemical weapons have been “locked and loaded inside the bombs,” according to NBC News, Israeli experts noted Thursday that Muslim regimes, which may have initially armed themselves with chemical weapons in order to threaten and deter Israel, have thus far used them only on their own countrymen or co-religionists.
In addition, although everyone from NATO Sec.-Gen. Anders Fogh Rasmussen to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that the use of chemical weapons would trigger a swift response – Clinton called it “a red line” – the movement of the weapons could well be defensive, some of the experts said. Assad might be seeking to keep the nerve agents out of the hands of rebels, who are said to be battling near one of his chemical weapons sites, they suggested, and to ready them for transportation in the event that the president and his clan are forced to flee Damascus.
“I see the developments as a card he’s holding against a slaughter at the hands of the Sunnis,” said Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the International Institute for Counter-Terror at the IDC Herzliya, who teaches a masters course on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear terrorism. “He could be trying to keep [the weaponry] away from the jihadist opposition and he could be preparing for a retreat.”
Karmon believes that Assad has a “plan in the drawer” in case he needs to flee the capital: relocating to the largely Alawite area along the coast between Latakia and Tartus and the banks of the Orontes River.
Karmon told the Times of Israel back in July that he had seen a concerted effort “to purge” those areas of Sunni residents and to create “a sterile zone” for the president’s Alawite sect.
Amid reports that Assad had given orders to ready the weapons for use – the precursor chemicals often need to be combined and then mounted on missiles or planes — the United States and its regional partners, including Israel, were “working the problem round the clock,” according to CNN on Wednesday.
This may be true from an intelligence perspective, with some pooling of information or plans, but the threats presented by the chemical weapons are varied and Israel would only have a role in some of the scenarios, the experts said.
Hezbollah is a different story, and likely Israel’s primary focus. Any sort of transfer of chemical weapons to the Lebanese Shi’ite group will trigger an immediate response, Israel has made clear. In July, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called the transfer of those weapons to Hezbollah “a clear casus belli” and said that in such a scenario, Israel “will act decisively and without hesitation or restraint.”
Israel and the US have the capacity to monitor the Syrian weapons sites.
Karmon suggested that, if a convoy of trucks carrying chemical weapons were detected, Israel would have to decide whether to attack in Syria or Lebanon – he thought Lebanon was more likely – and whether to strike from the air or deploy commando troops.
In the event of an airstrike, Shoham said, “significant environmental pollution should be anticipated.”
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi addressed the country for the first time since mass protests began earlier this week, defiantly standing his ground on the issue of the draft constitution, the upcoming national referendum, and his immunity from oversight.
Morsi said in a televised speech that if the controversial constitutional draft is rejected by the Egyptian people in the December 15 referendum, he will form a new constituent assembly to draft a new version of the constitution.
Yet Morsi also angrily accused some of the opposition protesters of serving remnants of the old regime and vowed never to tolerate anyone working for the overthrow of his “legitimate” government..
Morsi said that the controversial decrees he issued last month granting him immunity from legal oversight are non-negotiable, but invited the opposition to a “comprehensive and productive” dialogue starting Saturday at his presidential palace. He offered no sign at all that he might offer them any meaningful concessions.
The opposition has already stated that it would not enter a dialogue with Morsi unless he first rescinds decrees giving him nearly unrestricted powers and shelves the constitution draft hurriedly adopted by his Islamist allies.
The crisis began with Morsi’s decrees setting himself above judicial oversight. That was followed by the hurried passing of a constitution draft by his Islamist allies, moves that deeply polarized the country and took political tensions to a height not seen since the uprising nearly two years ago that ousted authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi remains determined to press forward with the Dec. 15 referendum to pass the new charter. The opposition, for its part, is refusing dialogue unless Morsi rescinds the decrees and shelves the disputed charter.
The violence began when the Brotherhood called on its members to head to the presidential palace to stand up against what a statement termed as attempts by the opposition to impose its will. The group called on their supporters to “protect legitimacy after an infringement by a group the night before that imagined it could shake legitimacy or force its will on people.”
Thousands of Brotherhood members and other Islamists then descended on the area Wednesday afternoon, chasing away some 300 opposition protesters who had been staging a peaceful sit-in outside the palace’s main gate a day after tens of thousands converged outside the palace to denounce the president.The Muslim Brotherhood were chanting “as if they are in a holy war against the infidels,” businessman Magdi Ashri said of the clashes. Protesting outside the palace again Thursday evening, Ashri said that he was once a supporter of the president, but after last night has changed his position.