SHAFAQNA – During a visit to Israel, Secretary of Defense James Mattis declared at a press conference that the United States is confident that the Syrian government continues to hold stockpiles of chemical weapons, telling reporters on Friday: “I can say authoritatively they [the Syrian government] have retained some [chemical weapons]. It’s a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically.”
Mattis declined to elaborate on the approximate quantities of chemical weapons he accused the Syrian government of possessing, arguing that doing so could compromise sources of intelligence.
Israeli officials claimed earlier this week that the Syrian government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, still possesses up to three tons of chemical weapons – the first specific intelligence claim regarding Syria’s chemical weapon stockpiles following the controversial chemical weapons attack that occurred in Syria’s Idlib Province earlier this month.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman – speaking alongside Mattis at the press conference – also refused to detail the latest accusations against the Assad regime, stating only that “we have 100 percent information that [the] Assad regime used chemical weapons against rebels.”
The Israeli government has not hesitated to accuse Syria of possessing and using chemical weapons. However, the country has also refused to ratify the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, despite having the largest arsenal of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Israel has also been caught using banned chemical weapons on several occasions, such as in Gaza and Lebanon. It has even occasionally admitted to doing so itself. But Israel has never been targeted by the international community for its use of chemical weapons, despite the fact that the U.S. has claimed it has a “moral obligation” to punish nations that do just that.
News coverage of Israel’s use of white Phosphorus on civilians during the 2014 assault on Gaza:
While the leaders of both the U.S. and Israeli militaries have asserted that Assad failed to declare all of Syria’s chemical weapons and have them destroyed, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed in 2016 that all Syrian government chemical weapons were destroyed. This conclusion was also corroborated by the U.S. government at the time, as well as by the Russian and Syrian governments.
In addition, the OPCW, whose fact-finding efforts have been active in Syria since 2013, has not found any reason to doubt this conclusion, as it still has yet to report its full findings regarding the Idlib gas attack. They have stated that sarin-like chemical weapons were likely used in the attack. Thus, the only sources suggesting that Syria continues to possess chemical weapons are anonymous intelligence sources referenced by two of the foreign governments most invested in the armed anti-Assad opposition within Syria.
As MintPress has previously reported, the gas attack that took place in early April is strikingly similar to a 2013 gas attack that pushed Assad to destroy the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stores. While intelligence provided by the U.S.-led coalition has also blamed Assad for the 2013 attack, former UN weapons inspector Richard Lloyd and Professor Theodore Postol of MIT published a report a year later finding that the intelligence blaming Assad’s forces for the attack was grossly inaccurate.
Award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh later revealed through U.S. intelligence that the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda, known as the al-Nusra Front, had the means, motive and opportunity to carry out the attack themselves.
The Idlib gas attack, which also took place in a region dominated by al-Nusra, shares many of the same hallmarks as the 2013 incident, as even mainstream media reports admit that Daesh (ISIS) and other insurgent groups active in Syria possess chemical weapons. Some chemical weapons experts have also argued that the attack never happened in the first place, claiming that it was staged.
However, these latest remarks from Mattis and Lieberman are likely setting the stage to blame the Syrian government for any future chemical weapon attacks within the nation – attacks that could be used to justify foreign military intervention. Russian intelligence warned not long after the Idlib gas attack that foreign-funded opposition rebels in Syria were preparing to carry out a chemical weapon attack on Syria, leading Putin to say at a press briefing: “we have information from various sources that such provocations — and I cannot call them anything else — are being prepared in other regions of Syria, including in the southern suburbs of Damascus, where they intend to plant some substance and blame the official Syrian authorities for its use.”
Mattis’ recent statements suggest that if the Syrian government is blamed for a future chemical weapons attack, the U.S. could take military action against the Assad regime. He stated during Friday’s briefing that the Syrian government “would be ill-advised to try to use any [chemical weapons] again, we made that very clear with our strike.” Israel, which bombed Syrian government positions just this past weekend, would support the U.S. in any such action and perhaps join in, as Netanyahu called the U.S. strike on Syria a “forthright deed” aimed at stopping the use of chemical weapons.
Souce: Mintpress News