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Israel and the Syrian chemical weapons deal

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   Sept. 17, 2013 at 12:05 AM   |   Comments

HERNDON, Va., Sept. 17 (UPI) -- As a U.S. Marine going through basic training many decades ago, light humor occasionally came to the fore. Trainees approaching a safety pit to throw hand grenades for the first time confronted a straight-laced instructor barking instructions, concluding with the warning, "Remember, when the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not our friend."

The same is true about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trying to stabilize a hand grenade by reinserting its pin after it has been pulled and thrown down range is much like trying to "reset" relations with the former KGB agent who considers the Soviet Union's collapse the greatest tragedy of the 20th century.

It is clear having spent more than a decade in power, "Mr. Putin is not our friend." He fosters a festering resentment over Moscow losing the Cold War. To restore Russia's greatness, he seeks to dominate the United States in the foreign policy arena.

The Syria situation is but the most recent in a long chain of chances -- provided to Putin by the Obama administration -- to trump U.S. interests.

Writing an open letter to the American people in The New York Times, the would-be dictator underscored the futility of a unilateral U.S. punitive strike against Syria for President Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons against his own people.

In pouncing on a slip of the tongue by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggesting a strike could be averted if Syria surrendered its chemical weapons, Putin pressed for that solution.

Putin noted in his letter his relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama "is marked by growing trust." It would have been more accurate for him to say the relationship is one marked by Obama's growing submission.

It should be remembered in 2012, Obama was caught making an unguarded comment to Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, saying he needed to await his own re-election before being "more flexible" with incoming President Putin on the contentious European defense issue.

It is incomprehensible as to what Obama hoped to gain in ultimate discussions with the Russians by such a statement (one he was unwilling to make publicly to the American people). But what it did do was convey to Putin an image of a weak U.S. president. It is an image reinforced, experts in body language suggest, by the motions of Putin and Obama whenever they are together -- the former confident and controlling; the latter unsure of himself.

It is against this background any agreement on Syria's chemical weapons must be weighed.

The good news is a U.S.-Russia deal on Syria's chemical arsenal was reached Saturday -- to be backed up by a U.N. resolution for sanctions or other actions, including military force, should Damascus fail to comply. Also, Assad acknowledged for the first time he possesses such weapons.

It appears the U.S. successfully limited to one week Assad's request for 60 days to provide a full accounting of the weapons. However, the verification inspection has stretched out to November with stockpile destruction to occur no later than mid-2014.

Additional terms and conditions, such as the makeup of the international inspection teams, remain to be negotiated.

Although there is U.S.-Russia agreement on the above, Syria has yet to accept the proposal. But there is more bad news.

The proposal is silent on the issue of accountability, which demands full disclosure by Syria on these weapons usage and who in the chain-of-command authorized it.

The United States' failure to address such accountability provides Assad with a free pass for war crimes for chemical usage. The proposal also should demand Syrian cooperation fully with a Syrian war crimes tribunal.

Meanwhile, recognizing how effective his puppet masters in Iran have been in stretching out nuclear negotiations without ever having to cut a deal, Assad will seek similar delays, hoping his evil deeds fade as a reason for war.

Additionally, disclosure shouldn't be limited to chemical weapons but include all weapons of mass destruction.

In 2007 the Israelis destroyed a nuclear reactor in Deir al-Zour, Syria, being built with North Korean assistance. Assad never pressed a claim to hold the Israelis accountable. He knew doing so would trigger an inquiry requiring access to the site, revealing its true purpose.

A full accounting is necessary to assess disposition of uranium and other dangerous materials available for use by terrorists.

Finally, disclosure needs to include any WMDs or technology transferred to Syria by Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Knowledgeable Syrian defectors have long claimed Saddam did so -- possibly including nuclear technology -- in the days prior to the 2003 U.S. invasion.

It is clear Putin isn't a student of history. For nearly nine decades since the international ban against chemical weapons usage, there have only been a limited number of violations. All involved usage by one Muslim nation against another or against its own people.

Acting as a big brother refusing to hold a younger brother accountable, Putin continues to block U.N. actions to hold countries like Syria and Iran responsible for violating such international bans.

Ironically, under the law of unintended consequences, Putin's actions in protecting one Muslim ally, Syria, may have only endangered another, Iran.

In earlier meetings with the Israelis, Obama promised, in exchange for Israel's forbearance in attacking Iran, allowing the United States more time to negotiate with it, he "is not bluffing" when he vows he won't allow Tehran to get nuclear weapons.

U.S. actions in Syria have given Israel notice. It may emerge the biggest winner in the Syrian crisis as Israel now knows Obama IS bluffing and responsibility for halting Iran's nuclear weapons program falls to Israeli military forces alone.

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(A retired U.S. Marine, Lt. Col. James Zumwalt served in the Vietnam War, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. He has written "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran -- The Clock is Ticking.")

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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