Greater Krueger National Park

Greater Krueger National Park
An image from a recent trip to South Africa. Clcik on the image for more on this trip.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Iran and Syria, Chemical Weapons and Nuclear Power

An advance team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday.  The Assad government continues to appear to be serious about following through on it's commitment to permit the destruction of of its chemical weapons, but rebel groups within Syria are not happy about what is happening.  They point out that only a small fraction of the more than 100,000 people that have been killed in the civil war were victims of poison gas.  Most were killed by conventional weapons.  They worry that the outside world has shifted it's attention from the war crimes of the Assad regime to the destruction of the chemical weapons.  Given that Iran has been a staunch supporter of Assad over the years, they are also undoubtably worried about the strategic implications of a possible rapprochement between Rouhani and Obama.

Meanwhile, the fractionalization of the groups opposed to the Assad regime continues apace.  Nobody knows for certain just exactly how many different factions there are in the opposition, nor how they interrelate at any given time.  Alliances shift, intergroup rivalries breed fighting between rebel brigades, and outside interests are pursuing objectives unrelated to Syria per se.  Of great concern to Western countries that are attempting to clandestinely support the rebels, is the fact that al-Quaida affiliates appear to be increasingly successful in carving out a safe haven in areas already liberated by rebel forces.  All of this causes considerable confusion and obviously complicates the task of the opposition on the battlefield, but it also foreshadows serious difficulties in any effort that might be made in the future to end the fighting through negotiation.  

In the meantime, the killing goes on and it looks more and more unlikely that Syria will be able to stabilize it's internal political situation any time soon.  At best, we might see open warfare replaced by sporadic sectarian violence brought about by a formal or informal agreement between outside powers.  In this scenario, we might expect to see Iran continue to play a significant role in Syria's internal affairs, particularly if Rouhani and Obama continue to get along well in their conversations.  It will be tempting for the oval office to weigh the relative importance of Syria's civil war against our fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon and reach conclusions that are not supportive of those Syrians opposed to President Assad's regime.  Not inevitable by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely possible.  If it were to play out that way it would demonstrate an early example of the value to Teheran of their fledgling nuclear program.

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