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Syria's chemical weapons and the path to global war

The Chinese and Russian veto of a draft resolution proposed by Britain at the UN Security Council which would give the Syrian regime one and a half months to withdraw its heavy weapons from the cities or the Syrian crisis will come under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, affirms that they are committed to supporting the Asad regime. Clearly, they have blind faith in Asad's ability to stay in power and, possibly, his ability to crush the revolution.

Where does this faith come from? Why have China and Russia used the veto three times in less than a year? This is especially puzzling as the forces of the free Syrian army have reached the heart of the capital, Damascus, including strategic buildings such as the headquarters of the National Security Council. The Russians and Chinese must have information other than that broadcast by Arab television stations, about the countdown to the fall of the regime, otherwise they wouldn't have decided to support a regime that is on the verge of collapse, a decision which has angered "Friends of Syria", led by the United States and most Arab countries. I don't think that they are that stupid.


For such support to stay in place even after the assassination of three senior generals in an exceptional operation inside the National Security Council HQ can be interpreted as strategic suicide, unless the regime itself actually planned the killings in a pre-emptive step against a coup. It would have been entirely feasible for such a coup to have been planned in cooperation with the Western powers seeking to overthrow Asad's regime.

Pre-emptive strikes are a speciality of the Baath Party in Iraq and Syria. Ex-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein liquidated his opponents in 1979, including some members of the Revolutionary Command Council who were very close to him, under the pretext that they were plotting with the then Syrian leadership against him.

The Sino-Russian double veto may lead to the aggravation of the crisis and escalate the proxy war which is intensifying day by day between supporters of the United States and its Arab allies (the opposition), and the regime backed by Russia and China along with Iran and Hezbollah. This is especially so after the US announced the end of Kofi Annan's efforts and its determination to work on the Syrian crisis outside the framework of the UN Security Council. When Washington does the latter, it means that it has a plan ready because it knows that the Russian and Chinese delegates will block any work under the umbrella of UN legitimacy. The question is simple: what is the US going to do?

Washington has not revealed its cards yet, but the growing rumours about the dangers of Syria's huge stockpile of chemical weapons, and the possibility of them falling into the hands of radical groups like Al-Qaeda or Lebanon's Hezbollah, may shed some light on America's plans. In an interview with CNN, Jordan's King Abdullah warned the world about Syria's unconventional arsenal falling into Al-Qaeda's hands. The group has a strong presence in Syria; Abdullah said that he has received valid intelligence about this.

The King's statements echoed those of Patrick Vantryl, a US State Department spokesman, and coincided with American media reports which claim that the US and Israel are discussing the option of a military attack to seize Syria's chemical weapons. It seems that they must not be allowed to fall into the hands of militant Islamist groups, at any cost.

Ehud Barak, Israel's Defence Minister, visited the Syrian border recently and expressed his fears that chemical weapons and heavy military equipment could be transferred to Hezbollah in Lebanon. According to Barak, Israel has growing concerns about the chaos inside Syria.

We can conclude from all of this that a joint US-Israeli attack on Syria may be imminent, on the pretext of securing weapons of mass destruction. In short, it could be a repeat of the Iraq scenario.

What is not mentioned is that Syria's chemical weapons have served as protection for all Arabs living under the threat of Israel's nuclear and chemical arsenal. Perhaps it is useful to recall that no Arab country or group, including the Lebanese Hezbollah, has ever used chemical weapons against Israel. Indeed, it was Israel which used white phosphorus bombs against unarmed Palestinian civilians and children during the invasion of the Gaza Strip in 2008 and 2009.

Most Arabs stand with the people of Syria who are demanding basic legitimate rights of dignity and democratic change in the face of a dictatorial and repressive regime. However, when the choice is between the current regime in Damascus and an American-Israeli led invasion of Syria, the situation may change. It is hard to believe that the people across the Arab world, who opposed the invasion of Iraq, will accept a repeat scenario in Syria with, on this occasion, unprecedented Israeli participation.

The prospects for regional war, and perhaps even armed conflict between international superpowers, are now very likely. As Syria sinks into civil war it could pave the way for a regional war as a prelude to a World War. The situation is that serious.

It's hard to say if those involved in the Syrian crisis, the regime or the rebels; or the Western and Eastern backers of the protagonists, could have foreseen that the deterioration of the conflict could lead way beyond the borders of Syria. The gates of hell may be opening out of the Syrian crisis. I say this with bitterness in my throat, and horror at the disaster that may be unfolding before our eyes. The consequences of the Chinese and Russian vetoes may be catastrophic indeed.

The author is editor-in-chief of Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper. This article was translated from the Arabic version published on 20 July 2012

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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