Report

Syria’s Declared Chemical Weapons Destroyed But New Attacks Under Investigation

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced yesterday that all of Syria’s declared chemical weapons have been destroyed under the terms of an agreement reached in 2013. However, the OPCW said that it is investigating 11 possible instances of chemical weapons use in Syria and in at least one case has determined that ...

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The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced yesterday that all of Syria’s declared chemical weapons have been destroyed under the terms of an agreement reached in 2013. However, the OPCW said that it is investigating 11 possible instances of chemical weapons use in Syria and in at least one case has determined that an individual was exposed to “sarin  or  a sarin-like substance.”

“This process closes an important chapter in the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapon programme as we continue efforts to clarify Syria’s declaration and address ongoing use of toxic chemicals as weapons in that country,” OPCW Director-General Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü said. U.S. officials told reporters last month that they were also looking into reports that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons in an attack on Moadamiya, a town outside of Damascus.

Iran Reveals New Missile Depot

Iranian state media revealed a new underground weapons depot housing Emad precision-guided missiles. U.S. officials have said that the missiles could be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, should Iran develop one, and violate a 2010 U.N. Security Council resolution. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the military to accelerate the development and production of new missiles. The United States is expected to declare new sanctions on the missile program, but delayed the announcement of those sanctions last week.

Headlines

  • The leader of Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham’s operations in Homs, Abu Rateb al-Homsy, was assassinated by gunmen targeting his car in the village of Farhaniyeh; the affiliation of the assailants is not known.

 

  • The Turkish government has released Mohammed Ismael Rasool, a Vice News journalist, on bail after imprisoning him for four months on terrorism charges; Rasool and two others were arrested while covering clashes between the Turkish military and Kurdish militants in August.

 

  • Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, speaking on a trip to Tehran, said he was concerned about possible “wide-ranging repercussions” of escalating Saudi-Iranian tensions and offered to help mediate between the countries; Turkey and Russia have also offered to assist in diplomacy.

 

  • Aidarus al-Zubaidi, the governor of Aden, Yemen, survived a car bomb attack that targeted his motorcade; the Islamic State, which assassinated Zubaidi’s predecessor in a similar attack in December, claimed credit for the attempt on his life.

 

  • Activists in Raqqa confirmed this week that the Islamic State executed a local journalist, Ruqia Hassan, who wrote under the pseudonym Nissan Ibrahim; Hassan was killed in September, but Islamic State officials have claimed since then that she was alive.

Arguments and Analysis

Perils of prediction: Why it’s so hard to guess the fallout of the Saudi-Iran split” (Kenneth M. Pollack, Markaz)

“It is the typical analytic tendency to predict that tomorrow will be essentially the same as yesterday and today. That’s because it is correct in the vast majority of cases. But that is also why it is often difficult for even the best analysts to recognize — let alone predict — discontinuous change. Major events often catch the finest experts by surprise. I fear that the Middle East has entered a period where major, discontinuous change has become far more possible, even probable. I see this week’s events in Saudi Arabia and Iran as evidence of just that. Five years ago, the Saudis might not have felt the need to execute Nimr al-Nimr because they did not feel as threatened by a wider Shiite threat (both internal and external), exaggerated though we may believe it to be. Five years ago, the Iranians would probably have settled with a perfunctory verbal condemnation and left it at that. And five years ago, the Saudis probably would have brushed aside any Iranian criticism. The last few days have demonstrated that today is not five years ago.”

 

Why Saudi Arabia escalated the Middle East’s sectarian conflict” (Marc Lynch, Monkey Cage)

“From this perspective, the new sectarian escalation is driven by Riyadh’s curious, and dangerous, mixture of perceived threat and opportunity, strength and weakness. Saudi Arabia is uniquely strong within Arab politics at the moment. It can rely on the momentary close partnership of the United Arab Emirates and the temporary weakness of traditional powers such as Egypt, Syria and Iraq. Saudi’s primary intra-Sunni state rivals, Turkey and Qatar, have been chastened by multiple setbacks, and each has sought to rebuild relations with Riyadh. And, for the moment, it has defeated the challenge of the Arab uprising. But Saudi Arabia clearly feels vulnerable as well. Its floundering wars in Syria and Yemen, the rise of the Islamic State and the Iran nuclear deal have left it feeling profoundly vulnerable. This combination of strength and vulnerability has made for erratic foreign policy — especially with an aggressive new leadership eager to make its mark. This is not to minimize domestic political challenges, including the battle to succeed King Salman, ramifications of cheap oil and unprecedented budget deficits. But it appears that the Saudi regime, as Gause would predict, is responding to the greatest perceived threat to its survival, which, in this case, means primarily foreign rather than domestic challenges. Foreign policy also seems to offer a cheaper and easier way to address domestic challenges.”

-J. Dana Stuster

MOHAMED ABDULLAH/AFP/Getty Images

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