Tag Archives: Syria

The Deadly Combination

Two North Korean shipments to a Syrian government agency responsible for the country’s chemical weapons program were intercepted in mid-2017 according to a confidential United Nations report on North Korea sanctions violations.  The report by a panel of independent U.N. experts, which was submitted to the U.N. Security Council in August 2017 and seen by Reuters gave no details on when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.  “The panel is investigating reported prohibited chemical, ballistic missile and conventional arms cooperation between Syria and the DPRK (North Korea),” the experts wrote in the 37-page report.

“Two member states interdicted shipments destined for Syria. Another Member state informed the panel that it had reasons to believe that the goods were part of a KOMID contract with Syria,” according to the report.

KOMID is the Korea Mining Development Trading Corporation.  It was blacklisted by the Security Council in 2009 and described as Pyongyang’s key arms dealer and exporter of equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons. In March 2016 the council also blacklisted two KOMID representatives in Syria.  “The consignees were Syrian entities designated by the European Union and the United States as front companies for Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), a Syrian entity identified by the Panel as cooperating with KOMID in previous prohibited item transfers,” the U.N. experts wrote.  SSRC has overseen the country’s chemical weapons program since the 1970s.

The U.N. experts said activities between Syria and North Korea they were investigating included cooperation on Syrian Scud missile programs and maintenance and repair of Syrian surface-to-air missiles air defense systems….The experts said they were also investigating the use of the VX nerve agent in Malaysia to kill the estranged half-brother of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un in February.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs…Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. However, diplomats and weapons inspectors suspect Syria may have secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability.

During the country’s more than six-year long civil war the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said the banned nerve agent sarin has been used at least twice, while the use of chlorine as a weapon has been widespread. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

On September 7, Israel targeted and heavily damaged a SSRC weapons factory in Masyaf Syria.

Excerpts from Michelle Nichols North Korea shipments to Syria chemical arms agency intercepted: U.N. report, Reuters, Aug. 21, 2017

Excerpts from Israel Hits Syrian Site Said to be Linked to Nuclear Weapons, Reuters, Sept. 7, 2017

Weapons Supply to Syria: The Role of CIA and Co.

[Who to Whom]

Qatar, which has taken a lead in arming the Syrian opposition, is coordinating with the CIA and has tightened control of the arms flow to keep weapons out of the hands of al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters, according to rebels and officials familiar with the operation.  With Britain and France discussing lifting an EU ban on arming the rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad, Western countries are concerned about making sure no arms end up in the hands of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra, which has pledged support for al Qaeda and which Washington considers a terrorist group.

Rebel fighters in Syria say that in recent months the system for distributing arms has become more centralized, with arms being delivered through opposition National Coalition’s General Command, led by Selim Idriss, a general who defected to the opposition and is a favorite of Washington.

Qatar mostly sends arms to rebels operating in the north of Syria, while Saudi Arabia, another rich Gulf Arab kingdom, sends weapons to fighters operating in the south, several rebel commanders said….”Before the Coalition was formed they were going through liaison offices and other military and civil formations. That was at the beginning. Now it is different – it is all going through the Coalition and the military command.”  Shipments of weapons to Syrian rebels were curbed last year when Washington raised concerns that arms were falling into the hands of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.

Today, Qatari shipments have resumed with tighter controls exerted from the palace of Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, in consultation with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, said a senior Qatari security official. “There’s an operations room in the Emir’s diwan (office complex), with representatives from every ministry sitting in that room, deciding how much money to allocate for Syria’s aid,” the Qatari official said.  “There’s a lot of consultation with the CIA, and they help Qatar with buying and moving the weapons into Syria, but just as consultants,” he said. The CIA declined to comment.  Rebel commanders contacted by Reuters said they submit their lists of needs to the General Command led by Idriss, which forwards the requests to Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

One Western source involved in the process said the new system of control is not foolproof: sometimes weapons sent in by Qatar do in fact reach hardline groups.Several rebel commanders said they believed wealthy Kuwaiti and Saudi individuals were also sending weapons and money to rebel fighters outside the National Coalition’s distribution channel.  “They usually ask for a video proving that an attack took place with the name of the brigade that did it. Sometimes they ask for a statement expressing gratitude,” said a rebel commander in Damascus.  He said the Saudis and Qataris also occasionally send weapons into each other’s territory, bypassing normal controls. “Sometimes the Qataris manage to send stuff to the southern part and the Saudis to the northern side. When they do so, they send it to brigades that are not part of the military command.”

According to the Qatari official, weapons supplied included small arms including AK-47 rifles, rocket propelled grenades, hand grenades and ammunition. Qatar also provides instructions on battlefield techniques such as how to rig weapons on vehicles.

[How?]

The weapons are purchased mainly from eastern Europe by arms brokers based in Britain and France, and are flown from Qatar to Ankara and then trucked to Syria, the Qatari source added.

[Timeframe]

Hugh Griffiths, a researcher on arms transfers at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said 90 Qatari military air cargo flights were made to Turkey between 3 January 2012 and the end of April 2013.He suggested the Qataris had made no particular effort to disguise the nature of the cargo.  “The Qataris never announced the cargo as ‘humanitarian aid’ as pretence, they’ve always been more forthright in terms of their support in the form of military aid,” he said.

[Military Bases and Mercenaries]

The planes were Qatari air force aircraft flying from Al Udeid, a big air force base shared with the U.S. military.”This is quite unusual for arms deliveries intended for non-state actors in conflict zones, in the last 20 years or so the pattern has been to use private, commercial companies,” he said.

By Amena Bakr and Mariam Karouny, Qatar, allies tighten coordination of arms flows to Syria, Reuters, May 14, 2013

US Special Forces in Iraq against Alliance of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Russia

The civil war in Syria is testing Iraq’s fragile society and fledgling democracy, worsening sectarian tensions, pushing Iraq closer to Iran… just nine months after American forces ended their long and costly occupation here.  Fearing that Iraq’s insurgents will unite with extremists in Syria to wage a two-front battle for Sunni dominance, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki recently ordered guards at the western border to block adult men…along with thousands of refugees seeking to escape the grinding war next door.  Farther north, Iraqi officials have another concern, also related to the fighting across the border. Turkish warplanes have stepped up attacks on the mountain hide-outs of Kurdish insurgents galvanized by the war in Syria, underscoring Iraq’s inability to control its own airspace.

The hardening of the antagonists’ positions in Syria — reverberating across Iraq — was made clear Monday at the United Nations when the new special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, gave a bleak appraisal of the conflict to the Security Council and said he saw no prospect for a breakthrough anytime soon.

The Syrian war’s spillover has called attention to uncomfortable realities for American officials: despite nearly nine years of military engagement, an effort that continues today with a $19 billion weapons sales program, Iraq’s security is uncertain and its alliance with the theocratic government in Tehran is growing. Iraq’s Shiite-dominated leadership is so worried about a victory by Sunni radicals in Syria that it has moved closer to Iran, which shares a similar interest in supporting the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad.,,,

In response, the United States has tried to secure its interests in Iraq. It has unsuccessfully pressed Iraq to halt flights from Iran that traverse Iraqi airspace to ferry weapons and fighters to the Assad government, although The Associated Press reported that over the weekend a government spokesman said Iraq would begin random searches of Iranian aircraft.  While some Congressional leaders have threatened to cut off aid to Iraq if the flights do not stop, the United States is trying to speed up weapons sales to Iraq to secure it as an ally, said Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr., the American commander in charge of that effort. As regional security deteriorates, the United States is finding it hard to deliver the weapons — especially antiaircraft systems — quickly enough to satisfy the Iraqis, who in some cases are looking elsewhere, including Russia.

“Although they want a strategic partnership with the United States, they recognize the vulnerability, and they are interested in going with the nation that will be able to provide them, and meet their need, their capabilities gap, as quickly as possible,” said General Caslen, who oversees a Pentagon office here, under the authority of the American Embassy, that brokers weapons sales to Iraq.  The United States is providing Iraq with refurbished antiaircraft guns, free of charge, but they will not arrive until June. In the meantime, the Iraqis have collected cold war-era missiles found in a junkyard on an air base north of Baghdad, and they are trying to get them in working order. Iraq is negotiating with Russia to buy air defense systems that could be delivered much more quickly than those bought from the United States.

“Iraq recognizes they don’t control their airspace, and they are very sensitive to that,” General Caslen said. Each time Turkish fighter jets enter Iraq’s airspace to bomb Kurdish targets, he said, Iraqi officials “see it, they know it and they resent it.”  Iskander Witwit, a former Iraqi Air Force officer and member of Parliament’s security committee, said, “God willing, we will be arming Iraq with weapons to be able to shoot down those planes.”

The American military withdrew at the end of last year after negotiations for an extended troop presence collapsed because the Iraqis would not agree to extend legal immunities to any remaining force. Once the Americans left, Iraq celebrated its sovereignty, even as military officials in both countries fretted about the deficiencies of Iraq’s military and sought ways to work together that would not require a public debate about immunities.  Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions. At the request of the Iraqi government, according to General Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence.

Excerpts from TIM ARANGO, Syrian War’s Spillover Threatens a Fragile Iraq, NY Times, Sept. 24, 2012

The Interests Behind the Covert Action in Syria; how to play the tribal card

The United States and its allies are moving in Syria toward a program of covert support for the rebels that, for better or worse, looks very much like what America and its friends did in Afghanistan in the 1980s.  The parallels are spooky. In Syria, as in Afghanistan, CIA officers are operating at the borders (in this case, mostly in Jordan and Turkey), helping Sunni insurgents improve their command and control and engaging in other activities. Weapons are coming from third parties (in Afghanistan, they came mostly from China and Egypt; in Syria, they’re mainly bought on the black market). And finally, a major financier for both insurgencies has been Saudi Arabia.  There’s even a colorful figure who links the two campaigns: Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who as Saudi ambassador to Washington in the 1980s worked to finance and support the CIA in Afghanistan and who now, as chief of Saudi intelligence, is encouraging operations in Syria.

What does this historical comparison suggest? On the positive side, the Afghan mujahedeen won their war and eventually ousted the Russian-backed government. (Yes, that’s another eerie parallel.) On the negative, this CIA-backed victory opened the way for decades of chaos and jihadist extremism that are still menacing Afghanistan, its neighbors and even the United States.  The Obama administration, to its credit, recognizes the dangers ahead. That’s one reason Obama’s approach to this war has been cautious and, according to critics, half-hearted and ineffective. Because the way forward is so uncertain, the administration has been taking baby steps. But it’s the nature of these wars that a little involvement leads to more, and still more.  What does history teach us about such interventions that may be useful in the Syrian case? Here are several points to keep in mind as the covert war against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ripens:

●The United States should be wary of supporting a Saudi strategy that inevitably is self-interested. The Saudis understandably would prefer that Sunnis who oppose autocratic rule should wage their fight far from the kingdom; Damascus is a far safer venue than Riyadh.

● The United States should be cautious about embracing the Sunni-vs.-Shiite dynamic of the Syrian war. Rage against Shiites and their Iranian patrons has been a useful prop for the United States and Israel in mobilizing Sunni opposition against Assad, who as an Alawite is seen as part of the Shiite crescent. But this is a poisonous and potentially ruinous sectarian battle, the kind that nearly destroyed Iraq and Lebanon and is now plunging Syria into the inferno. The Saudis want to fight Shiites, yes, and further from home than in Bahrain, or in Qatif in the kingdom’s eastern province. The United States should not endorse the sectarian element of this conflict.

●The United States should work hard (if secretly) to help the more sensible elements of the Syrian opposition and to limit the influence of extremists. This policy was ignored in Afghanistan, where the United States allowed Pakistan (aided by Saudi money) to back the fighters it liked — who turned out to be among the most extreme and dangerous. America is still trying to undo the mess caused by that exercise in realpolitik. Don’t do it again.

●Finally, the United States should subtly play the tribal card, which may be as crucial in Syria as it was in Iraq. The leaders of many Syrian tribes have sworn a blood oath of vengeance against Assad, and their power is one reason the engine of this insurgency is rural, conservative and Sunni. But Iraq showed that the tribal leaders can be the best bulwark against the growth of al-Qaeda and other extremists.

What’s scary about Syria is that al-Qaeda is already fighting there, in the hundreds. Cells in Mosul and other parts of northern Iraq are sending fighters across the Syria-Iraq border, with the jihadist pipeline now operating in reverse. Arab intelligence sources tell me that the Syrian opposition is laudably battling al-Qaeda’s influence: The opposition killed an al-Qaeda fighter named Walid Boustani, who tried to declare an “emirate” in a town near the Lebanese border; they also demolished a cell that raised al-Qaeda’s black flag near Bab al-Salameh, along the Turkish border. Sunni opposition fighters aren’t necessarily al-Qaeda fanatics, in other words.

The rebels fighting Assad deserve limited U.S. support, just as the anti-Soviet mujahedeen did. But be careful: This way lies chaos and extremism that can take a generation to undo if the United States and its allies aren’t prudent.

By David Ignatius,Syria’s eerie parallel to 1980s Afghanistan, Washington Post, Sept. 5, 2012

When Sanctions Start to Bite: Iran, North Korea, Syria Nuclear Nonproliferation

On May 23, 2011, pursuant to the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), the United States imposed sanctions on two Belarusian entities, three Chinese entities and one individual, five Iranian entities and one individual, one North Korean entity, two Syrian entities and one Venezuelan entity.

The sanctioned entities are:

Belarusian entities – Belarusian Optical Mechanical Association and BelTechExport;

Chinese entities and individuals – Mr. Karl Lee, Dalian Sunny Industries, Dalian Zhongbang Chemical Industries Company, and Xian Junyun Electronic

Iranian entities and individuals – Milad Jafari, Defense Industries Organization, Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force, SAD Import-Export Company, and Shahid Bakeri Industries Group (SBIG)

North Korean entity – Tangun Trading

Syrian entities – Industrial Establishment of Defense and Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC)

Venezuelan entity – Venezuela Military Industries Company (CAVIM)

Sanctions were imposed on these entities as provided in the INKSNA because there was credible information indicating that they had transferred to or acquired from Iran, North Korea, or Syria equipment and technology listed on multilateral export control lists (Australia Group, Chemical Weapons Convention, Missile Technology Control Regime, Nuclear Suppliers Group, Wassenaar Arrangement) or otherwise having the potential to make a material contribution to WMD or cruise or ballistic missile systems.

The sanctions apply to the specific entities above and will be in effect for two years. The sanctions do not apply to these entities’ respective countries or governments.

The sanctions consist of the following:

No department or agency of the U.S. Government may procure, or enter into any contract for the procurement of, any goods, services or technology from these entities;

No department or agency of the U.S. Government may provide any assistance to these entities and they shall not be eligible to participate in any assistance program of the U.S. Government;

U.S. Government sales of any item on the U.S. munitions list (USML) to any of these entities are prohibited, and sales of any defense articles, defense services or design and construction services controlled under the Arms Export Control Act are terminated; and

New licenses will be denied and any existing licenses suspended, for transfer to these entities of items controlled under the Export Administration Act of 1979 or Export Administration Regulations.

Iran, North Korea and Syria nonproliferation Act (INKSNA), Fact Sheet, United States Department of State Press Release, May 24, 2011

Official: Covert Nuclear Program of Syria

 The U.N. nuclear agency on April 28 said for the first time that a target destroyed by Israeli warplanes in the Syrian desert in 2007 was a covertly built nuclear reactor, countering assertions by Syria that it had no atomic secrets to hide. Previous reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency have suggested that the structure hit could have been a nuclear reactor. Thursday’s comments by IAEA chief Yukiya Amano were the first time the agency has said so unequivocally.

By aligning the IAEA with the United States, which first asserted three years ago that the bombed target was a nuclear reactor, the comments will increase pressure on Syria to stop stonewalling agency requests for more information on its nuclear activities. Amano spoke during a news conference meant to focus on the Fukushima nuclear disaster after a visit to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to discuss clean-up efforts at Japan’s tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant.

The facility that was … destroyed by Israel was a nuclear reactor under construction,” he asked in response to a question from The Associated Press, repeating to the AP afterward: “It was a reactor under construction.”  Previous IAEA language has been more circumspect. In a February report, Amano had said only that features of the bombed structure were “similar to what may be found at nuclear reactor sites.”  Israel has never publicly commented on the strike or even acknowledged carrying it out. The U.S. has shared intelligence with the agency that identifies the structure as a nearly completed nuclear reactor that, if finished, would have been able to produce plutonium for the fissile core of nuclear warheads…A reporter with Germany’s Der Spiegel asked Amano about Syria’s nuclear ambitions in an interview last month, noting that the September 2007 strike “destroyed a complex of buildings where plutonium was presumably being produced.”  Amano told the publication that Syria “isn’t letting our inspectors into the country to examine this location in detail” and said he “was critical of [President Bashar Assad’s] country’s cooperation” in correspondence with officials there last year.  The IAEA is also trying to probe several other sites for possible undeclared nuclear activities linked to the bombed target but Damascus has been uncooperative on most counts, saying that most of the sites are restricted because of their military nature.

“And then we have a second problem with Syria,” Amano said in the Der Spiegel interview. “The research reactor in Damascus is under IAEA supervision, and we conduct routine inspections there. We have now found traces of uranium from a source unknown to us, which is something we also want to know more about.” Amano said the explanations given by Syria aren’t sufficient, and that “even if it’s only a matter of a few grams, we still want to know where they came from and why they are there.”

Excerpt,IAEA chief: Syria tried to build nuclear reactor, MSNBC.com, April 28, 2011

Doctrines on Request: Libya, Bahrain, Syria and Iran

A Western intervention that some Libyans see as an attempt to grab the country’s oil;

A state of silence about the Saudi intervention in favor of the ruling family in Bahrain,

Leaving Syria pretty much to its own fate (or so it seems)…From reaction to reaction, some would not fail to see the grand strategies behind it all-