Deputy FM Warns: Inaction on Syrian Chemical Arms Sends Message to Iran

Iranians will take international community's inaction over Assad regime's use of chemical weapons as signal to proceed with its nuclear programs, says Zeev Elkin in radio interview.

If the Iranians see that the international community respond tepidly to Syria's use of chemical weapons they will continue to push forward their nuclear program, Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said Friday on Army Radio.

Elkin's words followed an announcement by the United States on Thursday that the Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime had used chemical weapons, something U.S. President Barack Obama had defined as a "red line" that must not be crossed. Elkin called on world powers to "take control of chemical weapon stocks" in Syria and stated that there were fears that it could fall into the hands of other parties.

"There is a question here, when a red line is set can we stick by it?" said Elkin on Army Radio. "If the Iranians will see that the red lines laid by the international community are flexible, then they will continue to progress [with their nuclear program]?" He added that there was no escaping the necessity of the international community taking Assad's chemical weapons stocks.

Elkin also expressed the fear that some of the Assad regimes chemical weapons would fall into the hands of the Syrian rebels or other hostile entities. Western intelligence agencies believe that all of Syria's chemical weapons are still in the hands of the Assad regime. But according to Elkin, "the ease with which Assad used chemical weapons shows that apparently it could easily pass it the hands of the other side."

The White House and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that the U.S. intelligence community believes the Syrian government has used sarin gas on a small scale against rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar Assad. This brought the American assessment of Assad's use of chemical weapons into line with the Israeli intelligence community's assessment as stated by Brig. Gen. Itay Brun, head of the research division of Military Intelligence earlier this week.