Israeli Intelligence Knows Why Syria Built Up Chemical Arsenal — and Syria’s Reasons Don’t Make Israel or the Middle East Any Safer

Below are excerpts from a new blog post by a former producer for CBS News’ “60 Minutes”, the Paris-based Barry Lando.  Titled “Why Did Syria Want CW Anyway?”, at, the post seems to understand — perhaps sympathize with? — the Syrian dictatorship’s desire to have a poor man’s nuclear bomb, to balance Israel’s very real (though officially unacknowledged) nuclear arsenal.

Before injecting a few notes of skepticism, a tiny bit of humor: on a recent viewing of Israeli President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday celebration in Jerusalem’s convention center, we noticed that a comedienne — in her fast-paced Hebrew stand-up act — praised Peres for, among other things, building a nice “textiles factory at Dimona.” He smiled.

The serious points to be considered — while understanding why Syria would want weapons of mass destruction — is that we in the free world don’t want people like Hafez Assad or Bashar Assad to have those weapons.

Whatever the original reasons for building up a vast quantity of poison gas and nerve gas, Syria’s regime almost certainly used chemical weapons against civilians — killing hundreds, including children — on August 21. Israel hasn’t used its nuclear bombs.

Yes, there are strong reasons to feel it’s disappointing that there’s been very little public debate in Israel on “nuclear doctrine”: What are the bombs for, and when might Israel — still feeling itself a clever David surrounded by the much larger Goliath of Arab and Muslim hostility — use nukes?

Factions and governments in the Middle East may argue or compete for the status of “underdog” allegedly needing the worst weapons that humans can invent. But, as historians of Israel’s intelligence community, we will remind readers of the reality: Israel intends to survive and, when challenged, to win.

Although Barry Lando apparently rejects Israel’s self-image as the David in the region, here are key parts of his blog post — to encourage discussion.

(One more brief riposte. When he writes of Syria’s shame at its “failure to defeat Israel in 1948,” consider that the goal of Syria and Arab allies at that time was to extinguish the newborn State of Israel. And blithely saying Israel took the Golan in 1967 ignores the background of why that war broke out. But, indeed, in Middle East history it is difficult to sort out chickens and eggs.)

Americans may reach their own conclusions as to whether any of this affects how members of Congress should vote, a few days from now.

By Barry M. Lando (excerpts chosen by

An air of inanity pervades the debate about Syria—obscuring the underlying fears and motives, the real forces behind a surrealistic, blood-soaked drama worthy of Kafka, Ionesco, or Pinter.

It’s evident, for instance, that the 800-pound guerrilla hovering behind the debate is Israel and its American backers, one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington.

What has not been made clear is that, lurking in the background, is another shadowy hulking presence: Israel’s nuclear weapons capacity, which—as I’ve previously blogged— Israel has never officially acknowledged and most U.S. administrations have done their best to ignore. As have the mainstream press and the gaggle of statesmen, commentators and “experts” with weighty proposals on how to resolve the current crisis….

… when you understand why Syria’s leaders opted for chemical weapons in the first place.

It was not with the intention of deploying CW against their own people. It was instead an attempt to develop an affordable and meaningful deterrent to Israel’s daunting military might, particularly to Israel’s nuclear capability.

That’s the bottom line of several serious studies of Syria’s weapons program, done over the past few years by American and other experts. As a study published by the European Union’s non-proliferation consortium in July 2012, concluded, “Syria’s CWs are not tactical or battlefield weapons, but rather a strategic deterrence against Israel’s conventional superiority and its nuclear weapons arsenal.”

While Israeli leaders have always portrayed their country as an embattled David, confronting an existential threat from an Arab – and now, Iranian— Goliath, Syria’s perspective has been totally different.

As the rulers in Damascus have seen it, Israel, thanks to its sophisticated industrial base,  and unwavering financial and political support from the United States, has been able to develop by far the most powerful military forces in the region—with its own nuclear trump card.

The Syrians, on the other hand, have suffered one humiliating setback after another, from the failure to defeat Israel in 1948, to Israel’s on-going occupation of the Golan Heights, which they took in 1967, to Israel’s repeated forays into South Lebanon.

The Syrians, however, came to realize they could never equal Israel’s military might.  They opted instead for a practical alternative: chemical weapons. If not strategic parity, CW would at least give Syria, if the chips were down, a fearful enough weapon to brandish against Israel’s nuclear capabilities. …

Syria’s determination to maintain its chemical arsenal could only have increased after 2007 when Israeli planes bombed what was apparently a Syrian attempt to construct a nuclear reactor. …

Syria has not signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Whenever the issue comes up, Syria’s leaders have invariably cited Israel’s nuclear weapons program, and the fact that Israel refused to sign the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In other words, Syria is not going to unilaterally lay down its most potent weapon.

Think what you will of the men governing Syria, but how can Israel or its American backers, answer that argument? Particularly if they still refuse to admit officially that Israel even has nukes?

[Lando goes on to say that there’s a consistent “trip wire” for Syrian use of CW: a serious threat to Damascus. Rebel forces were starting to strangle the capital in August 2013.]

September 7, 2013

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