Israel Calls Out Syria on (More!) Chemical Weapons

 

Today’s Top Stories

1. According to Israeli defense officials, Syria still has up to three tons of chemical weapons. Earlier this month a chemical attack in Syria killed over 80 people in a particularly gruesome manner. Director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu of the international chemical weapons watchdog the “Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” said laboratory tests had provided “incontrovertible” evidence that victims and survivors of the April 4 attack in northern Syria were exposed to sarin nerve gas or a similar banned toxin, while Israeli Minister of Defense Avigdor Liberman said that he had “100 percent certainty” that Syrian President Bashar Assad was himself directly responsible.

In 2014, the United States negotiated the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons supply, culminating with then Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement:

With respect to Syria, we struck a deal where we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out.

However, roughly a month after Kerry’s statement Israel announced that it had evidence that Syria was continuing to hide “significant” amounts of chemical weapons in breach of the agreement, and earlier this month Israel’s assessment proved to be (tragically) correct. Now Israel is once again warning of Assad’s weapons arsenal.

The lesson of recent history? It is a good idea to take Israeli assessments on this particular topic very, very seriously.

2. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that Iran could “follow the same path as North Korea” in pursuing nuclear weapons and putting global security at risk. US President Donald Trump made contradictory promises during the campaign as to what his policy would be toward Iran, but his positions and actions regarding Syria, North Korea and Afghanistan seem to indicate that he is open to creating deterrence through military actions. Somewhat paradoxically, at about the same time the Trump administration has notified Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama, and says the U.S. has extended the sanctions relief given to the Islamic republic in exchange for curbs on its atomic program. See our Commentary/Analysis section below, for Michael Oren’s thoughts on the issue.

3. More than 100 Boston-area researchers in health care and life sciences released a statement in defense of “the liberal ideals which have shaped our democracy” and in support of “the free flow of ideas and information” that is central to their work. Why take the time to re-affirm something so obvious? To stop academic blacklisting by BDS (the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions movement) which targets Israeli academics and universities. At a time when some liberals have adopted anti-Israel positions, it is refreshing to see this reminder that Israel exemplifies liberal ideals, and that support for Israel ought to be natural for one who believes in such values.

4. The agenda driven Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence hosts tours for foreign journalists which paint a misleading picture of Israel’s reality. In this case, The Irish Times has published an essay by author Eimear McBride, in which she buys the NGO’s message “hook, line and sinker,” with no independent research or balance. HonestReporting examines in this critique.

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Israel and the Palestinians

• US President Donald Trump will be hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Whitehouse on May 3. According to White House spokesman Sean Spicer:

They will use the visit to reaffirm the commitment of both the United States and Palestinian leadership to pursuing and ultimately concluding a conflict-ending settlement between the Palestinians and Israel.

• Yet another ramming terror attack: this time at a bus stop at the Gush Etzion Junction in the West Bank. One pedestrian, a 60 year old man, was treated for a head injury. The attacker, 21-year-old Suhaib Mashahra, from the village of Sawahreh near the West Bank town of Bethlehem, was shot and killed by Israeli troops while carrying out the attack. As usual, the Reuters coverage emphasizes the death of the terrorist over the attack itself and, of course, makes no mention of the words “terror” or “terrorism.” It could be worse: in the past Reuters has neglected to even mention that the attacker was…well, attacking.

 

Around the World

• According to a new poll by the Anti-Defamation League, a majority of Americans are concerned about violence against Jews and Muslims. Of the 5,100 people who were interviewed, 52% were troubled by anti-Semitic violence. Seventy-six percent of those polled were disturbed by violence against Muslims. While most do not believe Trump is personally anti-Semitic, about half believe he should have done more to discourage anti-Semitism during his campaign. An overwhelming 95% of Americans say Trump is anti-Muslim and 53% say he is anti-Latino. At the risk of injecting a bit of reality into the discussion, FBI figures show that in 2015 (the most recent data available) 51.3% of religion based hate crimes were directed against Jews, while less than half that number, 22.3%, were directed against Muslims. At just under 5% each were crimes against Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants and others.

Commentary/Analysis

• With all the attention focused on chemical weapons in Syria and nuclear tests in North Korea, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States and current MK Michael Oren penns an op-ed entitled, “We’re turning a blind eye to Iran’s genocidal liars.” Oren goes on to explain that while North Korea and Syria breached their respective agreements,

[the agreement with Iran] is so inherently flawed that Tehran doesn’t even have to break it. Honouring it will be enough to endanger millions of lives.

Oren explains that the JCPOA (the Iran nuclear deal struck by the Obama administration) allows Iran to make significant progress toward becoming a nuclear power without even violating the terms of the deal, all while enjoying billions of dollars in sanctions relief. Thus, when most of the deal’s provisions conclude in roughly ten years, it will be essentially impossible for international powers to stop Iran from quickly going nuclear. This is assuming that Iran doesn’t breach the JCPOA sooner. However, Oren provides a note of hope, along with a warning:

How can the US and its allies pre-empt catastrophe? Many steps are possible, but they begin with penalising Iran for the conventions it already violates, such as UN restrictions on missile development…in responding forcibly to North Korean and Syrian outrages, President Trump has taken a major step towards restoring America’s deterrence power. His determination to redress the flaws in the JCPOA and to stand up to Iran will greatly accelerate that process. The US, Israel and the world will all be safer.

If you are unable to read the original op-ed in The Australian due to the paywall, a copy is available on this private blog from Joseph Wouk. (HonestReporting has no relationship with, and does not endorse this blog: the link is provided for convenience only).

• Here’s what else I’m reading today . . .

– Reuven Ben-Shalom: No Nelson Mandela
Jim Michaels: How the U.S. Helped Win a Battle Against ISIS in Libya
Ben-Dror Yemini: Barghouti Is Intentionally Lying

 

Featured image: CC0 macadam13;

 

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