Conflict resolution is still not high on list of Syria's strategic priorities
The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Iran and North Korea were the key contributors to Syria's nuclear weapons program.
The men who run Syria
Affiliation: Alawi sect of Shia
-- The Syrian regime has never been regarded as particularly helpful to Western interests in that it quietly but actively aided Al Qaida insurgents transiting its borders to and from Iraq and has continuously helped supply both Hizbullah and Hamas in their proxy wars against Irael.
And yet the leader Bashar Assad (and his attractive wife) dress in fashionable European designer attire and eschew the thuggish public behavior of other dictators in the region.
The quiet military/intelligence band of Alawi brothers he heads and that run the country carefully cater to the Sunni majority that makes country function to the degree that it does and holds down key posts in the middle levels of government.
But the same covert clique worked with North Korea to build a nuclear reactor apparently aimed at producing a Syria arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
This inconvenient fact is downplayed by the newly-empowered U.S. State Department that chafed under President George W. Bush's inclination to favor the Pentagon (during his first term at least) in foreign policy debates.
Under President Barack Obama, the diplomatic corps and significant segments of the U.S. intelligence community under its sway, see engagement with Syria and Iran as the key to conflict resolution and peace in the Middle East.
Good luck with that.
As an advisory by Middle East Newsline warned:
In the latest assessment by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Syria's alliance with Iran is described as unnatural and "may erode if Syria is accommodated significantly in any diplomatic agreement with Israel."
Somebody at DIA might want to know that the Syrian alliance with Iran is nearly 30 years old and survived three Arab wars. DIA might also want to know that President Assad's Alawi-dominated Syria, the minority that comprises 10 percent of the population, has never maintained normal relations with any of its neighbors -- Arab, Sunni, secular, Islamic or Jewish.
Jordan's King Abdullah II, right, welcomes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad upon his arrival at the Amman airport. AFP/Khalil Mazraawi
Syrian opposition sources report Damascus has been hosting foreign delegations to plan the resumption of its nuclear program. They said the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad plans to construct a nuclear facility over the next year.
"A new delegation of Iranian and Ba'athist Iraqis supported by Iran has arrived to Damascus last week to energize the Syrian nuclear program," the Reform Party of Syria said on March 12. "The delegation is comprised mostly of nuclear scientists but their specialized expertise remains a mystery."
The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Iran and North Korea were the key contributors to Syria's nuclear weapons program. In September 2007, the Israel Air Force bombed a suspected plutonium production plant in northeastern Syria near the border with Iraq.
RPS did not provide details of the Iranian delegation to Syria. Sources in Damascus said the destroyed site at Al Kibar has been rebuilt as a missile facility.
The U.S. intelligence community has also determined that Syria is modernizing its military, including the fighter-jet fleet and missile arsenal.
The Defense Intelligence Agency has concluded that Syria was upgrading its missile, rocket, anti-tank, aircraft and air defense inventories. The Pentagon agency said Syria was receiving advanced Russian air defense systems to combat any Israeli air strike.
Before and after photos of a suspected plutonium production plant in northeastern Syria targeted by the Israeli air force in a strike carried out just after midnight on September 6, 2007. Wikipedia
"Significant air defense related deliveries include at least two SA-22 self-propelled short-range gun and missile air defense systems from Russia in June 2008, out of a contract for several dozen," DIA director Michael Maples said. "Recent Syrian contracts with Russia for future delivery include new MiG-31 and MiG-29M/M2 fighter aircraft, and the SA-X-17 medium-range SAM system."
The SA-22 has been marketed by Moscow as the Pantsyr-S1 mobile air defense system. Pantsyr was developed with financing by the United Arab Emirates, a leading client of the system.
The MiG-31, a high-altitude interceptor meant to replace the MiG-25, has been deemed one of the most advanced fighter-jets in the Russian Air Force. The MiG-29M/M2 marks an upgrade of the legacy MiG-29, the staple of the Syrian Air Force. Damascus has not bought fighter aircraft in more than 20 years.
"Syria's ballistic missile inventory is designed to offset shortfalls in the country's conventional forces," Maples said. "It includes older Russian-built SS-21s as well as Scud B, Scud C, and Scud D missiles. Syria continues to flight test ballistic missiles which it views as a strategic deterrent against Israel."
In a briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 10, Maples said Syria was supplying anti-tank guided missiles to the Iranian-sponsored Hizbullah. He said Damascus has regarded Hizbullah as an "extension of its own defense capabilities against Israel in potential future conflicts."
DIA assessed that Syria contains a stockpile of chemical warfare agents, including nerve gas, which could delivered by aircraft or ballistic missiles. The agency said Damascus has advanced its biological weapons program and could fire missiles with a BW warhead.
"Based on the duration of Syria's longstanding biological warfare program, we judge some elements of the program may have advanced beyond the research and development stage and may be capable of limited agent production," DIA said in a report submitted to Congress.
"Syria is not known to have successfully weaponized biological agents in an effective delivery system, but it possesses a number of conventional and chemical weapon systems that could easily be modified for biological agent delivery."
Syria is also involved in supplying of the Hamas regime in Gaza, an operation that has become more difficult since its 2008 war with Israel.
A report by the Israeli intelligence community said that Iran, in wake of the Israel war, would face greater difficulty in restoring Hamas's military capabilities than in Teheran's rearmament of Hizbullah in 2006. The report by the state-financed Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center pointed out that Iran does not have direct access to the Gaza Strip as it does to Lebanon.
However, Hamas's military buildup in the Gaza Strip has been directed by Hamas headquarters in Damascus, Syria, headed by Khaled Mashal, the report said. The report said the buildup has focused on rockets and mortars and IEDs in an effort similar to that of Hizbullah in 2006. Hizbullah was said to have engaged in weapons smuggling for Hamas.
"In the Middle East, there are some countries which manufacture such rockets, including Iran and Syria," the report said. "In our assessment, Iran initiated the technological adaption to make it easier to dismantle the rockets for smuggling into the Gaza Strip for Hamas and the other terrorist organizations."
While new thinking seems to be in vogue these days in Washington policy circles, the priority in Teheran and Damascus remains what it has been: high tech weapons of mass destruction.
Monday, March 30, 2009
And while Obama sends repetitive missives and missions to Damascus and Assad...