April 12, 2017 | New York Daily News
We can’t punish Syria and ignore Iran: Assad’s allies have been complicit in his crimes
The Iranian regime’s role in enabling Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s chemical attacks on civilians last week has sadly been ignored, in part because of Tehran’s accurate assertion that its forces were themselves the victims of nerve agent warfare during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif termed Assad’s chemical warfare, which killed 86 people and injured several hundred in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, as “bogus.” He added on Twitter: “As the only recent victim of mass use of chemical weapons (by Saddam in the 80’s), Iran condemns use of all WMD by anyone against anyone.”
Zarif is correct that Iranian soldiers suffered chemical attacks by the late Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein. But he fails to note that Tehran has since 2012 robustly aided its ally Assad in dropping deadly chemicals and barrel bombs on his population. Zarif also airbrushes the fact that Saddam obliterated some 5,000 Kurds, mostly civilians, in Halabja in northern Iraq in 1988.
And a scarcely read report in the Kurdish news outlet Rudaw this past October alleged that Iran used chemical weapons on 12 Kurdish fighters. Iranian Kurds have waged a low-intensity insurgency against the repression of the mullah-regime in western Iran.
Iran’s regime is shedding crocodile tears over its history as a victim of nerve agent warfare to advance its enabling of Assad’s chemical and barrel bombing war against his population. The mounting evidence shows that Iran’s rulers are methodically working to modernize their chemical and biological warfare arsenal.
An examination of German intelligence reports from 2015 spanning the 16 states in the Federal Republic reveals Tehran’s efforts to procure nerve agent technology to be used for mass destruction. The domestic intelligence agency of Rhineland-Palatinate (the equivalent of the FBI) reported that Iran had targeted German companies in the state, seeking to acquire equipment that could be used to produce and deliver “atomic, biological and chemical weapons in a war.”
“These goods could, for example, be applied to the development of nuclear and missile delivery program,” the intelligence report said.
Intelligence officials from the state of Saarland wrote that the “so-called danger states, for example Iran and North Korea, make efforts to obtain technology for atomic, biological or chemical weapons.”
The intelligence agency in the state of Baden-Württemberg said Tehran was engaged in efforts to develop “nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.”
Making matters worse is that Iran continued to seek to obtain the technology that can be used for weapons of mass destruction after it reached an agreement with the U.S. and other world powers to curb its illicit nuclear program in July 2015. Across the Atlantic, the United States’ Congressional Research Service report on “Iran’s Foreign and Defense Policies” in October 2016 cited information on the Islamic Republic’s chemical and biological weapons programs.
The CRS study reads, “U.S. reports indicate that Iran has the capability to produce chemical warfare (CW) agents and ‘probably’ has the capability to produce some biological warfare agents for offensive purposes, if it made the decision to do so.”
According to the report, “this raises questions about Iran’s compliance with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which Iran signed on January 13, 1993, and ratified on June 8, 1997.”
In 2013, Iran did nothing to crack down on its Syrian client state after an Assad chemical attack killed upwards of 1,000 people. The UN determined that sarin nerve gas, the same chemical agent used last week, was used in 2013. And Iran’s clerical regime remained indifferent to Assad’s use on multiple occasions of chlorine gas to wipe out his citizens in rebel-held areas.
Iran’s efforts to play the victim in 2017 about chemical warfare does not mesh with its track record of supporting Assad in his scorched earth chemical warfare against Syrian civilians. President Barack Obama’s administration ignored Assad’s use of chlorine gas after 2013, in order not to jeopardize his legacy Iran nuclear deal. As we now know, then-Secretary John Kerry’s assurance that “we got 100% of the chemical weapons out” of Syria was worthless.
The U.S. government, which not long ago was content to leave Assad in power, now seems to have shifted its policy on the future of Syria. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that regime change is “inevitable.”
Yet one of the keys to ousting the Assad regime is to evict Iran and its strategic partner Hezbollah from Syria. A one-two punch should be delivered to Assad and Iran on the chemical and biological weapons front. The U.S. government and its NATO allies should also work to dislodge Russian power from the Islamic heartland in the Middle East. Taken together, these measures could help keep Syria free of chemical weapons and a safer place for civilians.
Weinthal is a fellow for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.