Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Striking a Deal

The authoritative Jane's Defence Weekly is reporting that Syria has signed an agreement with Iran, pledging to hide Tehran's WMD and missiles, should it come under UN sanctions.

Citing diplomatic sources, Jane' s says that the strategic accord signed by Tehran and Damascus allows Iran to store weapons, sensitive equipment or even hazardous materials on Syria soil, in a time of crisis. Damascus also agreed to continue serving as a conduit for military hardware flowing from Iran to various terrorist groups, including Hizballah. In return, Iran has promised to provide a wide range of military hardware to Damascus, and upgrade Syrian chemical weapons and ballistic missiles. The agreement even allows Iran to operate "advanced weapons" on Syrian soil in times of crisis.

While details of the accord are surprising, the fact that Syria and Iran struck a deal is hardly earth-shattering. With expanding U.S. influence in the Middle East, both Tehran and Damascus find themselves increasingly isolated, with few other reliable partners in the region. Syria's willingness to accept Iranian WMD provides yet another option for deceiving western intelligence agencies and the UN, making it more difficult to track Tehran's nuclear efforts. Additionally, Damascus's willingness to continue funneling Iranian aid to Hizballah gives both nations leverage in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

From the Syrian point-of-view, Iranian aid comes at a time when Syria needs to modernize its military, but lacks the resources to do so. Iranian military technology is hardly advanced, but loans from Tehran could allow Syria to make needed upgrades in its air, air defense and ballistic missile forces. And, the potential presence of Iranian nukes on Syrian soil might provide a measure of deterrence--or (more likely) invite a preemptive Israeli strike.

While both sides probably view the agreement as a good deal, some of the provisions are unrealistic, even a bit silly. For example, how does Iran plan to get advanced weapons to Syria, let alone operate them near the Israeli border--I'm sure the Israeli Air Force would have something to say about that. But Damascus's apparent willingness to house Iranian WMD gives new credence to reports that some of Saddam's stocpiles also found a home there. The final chapter of Iraq's WMD program cannot be written until we find out what may be hiding in Syria.


Unknown said...

Old 982A writes...

Let's go back 40 years...
Back in the stone age (middle 1960s) I recall the official US Government position was that there were no bad-guys (PAVN/NVA or VC) in Cambodia.
I also recall how many of us had the gut feeling that things couldn't be so.
So when I first walked into an analysis shop in Jan of '68, saw the working/briefing map with all the red stickers west of the RVN/Cambodia border, I had a great "Aha" moment.
Later, while doing some research for a college paper I was able to talk to a former national security official from the Johnson administration and I asked him why we were BS-ing the world by our story of no PAVN/NVA or VC in Cambodia. His response was that it was a decision based on diplomatic concerns and we didn't want to embarrass Sihanouk.

So we denied the existence of several major North Vietnamese headquarters (up in the Tri-Border area and down at COSVN), major portions of the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and Lord knows what else in order to "not embarrass" an already less-than-friendly player.

And what kind of things that we know already regarding the transfer of materiel, personnel and funds in/out of Syria, Iran, SA, are we not officially stating so as not to embarrass whatever dictator of the moment?

Sometimes I think we’re just our own worst enemy.

Unknown said...

Your points are well taken, and I believe (at least for a while) we were attempting to work with the Syrians, and get them to sign on in such issues as border security, cutting support for terrorist groups, etc. Needless to say, the Syrians haven't done much, so our "patience" with Damascus is waning.

If we do know more about what may have moved from Iraq to Syria, I haven't seen it, and (besides) I couldn't talk about it in this forum. Suffice it to say that there remains a gaping intel hole on the issue of Saddam's WMD, and the possible Syrian connection. I will say that there has been a noticeable increase in Syrian WMD activity over the past 4-5 years--more testing, expansion of facilities, etc. That type of activity is obviously aimed at deterring Israel, but it's also the sort of things you do if you had received--or were expecting--an increase in your stockpile.

But clearly, politics does play a role in what we do/say, both publicly and privately. And, if I'm reading the tea leaves correctly, I'd say we're taking a much tougher approach with Damascus. I've also noted the comments of FNC military analyst (Ret) AF Lt Gen Tom McInerney, who is very much "in the loop" with the White House and the Pentagon. More than two months ago, Gen McInerney commented that elements of the military wanted hot pursuit authority, allowing them to chase insurgents across the border into Syria. Gen McInerney is a very serious guy, not prone to rash statements. I think his comments reflect a view within DOD that Syria should be held accountable, on a variety of issues .