Asaf Ronel and Reuters — Haaretz Sept 19, 2013
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Syria’s chemical weapons cache was built up in response to Israel’s alleged nuclear weapons stockpile, and that these nuclear capabilities make Israel into a target.
Responding to a question about the chances of persuading Syria to give up its arsenal, as agreed under a deal proposed by the Kremlin last week, Putin said that “Syrian chemical weapons were built in response to Israel’s nuclear weapons.”
During his response, he emphasized the subject of dismantling weapons of mass destruction as a key issue, saying that “the technological superiority of Israel means that it doesn’t have to have nuclear weapons.” Israel’s nuclear weapons “only make her into a target,” he said.
Speaking at the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Novgorod Region, north of Moscow, Putin noted that in Israel there are people who oppose nuclear weapons. Refering to nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, Putin said Vanunu was not anti-Israel, and that he did not change his stance on nuclear weapons even after years in prison.
On Syria, Putin said he could not be 100 percent certain that the plan for destroying Syria’s arsenal would be carried out successfully, but that he saw reason to hope it would.
“Will we be able to accomplish it all? I cannot be 100 percent sure about it,” Putin told the crowd of journalists and Russia experts. “But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen … I hope so.”
Putin, whose country has been the Syrian government’s main ally in the more than two-year-old civil war, said he had strong grounds to believe that an August 21 chemical attack in Syria was staged by opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“We always talk about the responsibility of the Assad government, if he was the one used it (a chemical weapon). What if the opposition used it?,” Putin said. “We have every reason to believe it was a cunning provocation.”
Russia and the United States brokered a deal last week to put Assad’s chemical arms stockpiles under international control to avoid possible U.S. military strikes that Washington said were intended to punish him for the poison gas attack.
But Putin reiterated Moscow view that the methods used to make the chemical weapon used in the attack suggested it was home-made and not a type of armament used by the Syrian army.
Western governments say a UN report confirmed Assad’s forces were behind the attack in rebel-held areas.