LOS ANGELES (Aug. 2)
Iran, Syria and Libya are amassing large arsenals of chemical weapons and are determined to obtain or produce nuclear arms and the missiles to deliver them to distant targets by the end of this decade.
These claims are contained in a report by the Simon Wiesenthal Center scheduled to be released Monday.
The 140-page report, “Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Cases of Iran, Syria and Libya,” also asserts that, in a replay of the clandestine Iraqi buildup of unconventional weapons, the three countries have been getting much of their technology and equipment from Western nations. China and North Korea are now moving into the lead as the main suppliers, however.
With 10 large and newly identified nuclear weapon facilities on its own soil, the report notes, Iran will be capable of manufacturing nuclear arms within a few years, even if all foreign assistance is cut off.
The report, including exhaustive details and analyses, was compiled by Kenneth Timmerman, an American investigative reporter living in Paris who specializes in Middle East security issues. Two years ago, in advance of Operation Desert Storm, Timmerman published through the Wiesenthal Center “The Poison Gas Connection,” which documented Western complicity in building up Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of mass destruction.
300 FIRMS IN 36 COUNTRIES NAMED
Named in the current report are 300 firms in 36 countries, which have supplied Iran, Syria and Libya with “dual-use” technology — materiel and equipment ostensibly for civilian uses but easily diverted to military purposes.
Germany led the list with 100 companies, followed by the United States, France and Britain. Timmerman noted, however, that Germany has recently enacted tough new laws to “prevent German companies from creating another Iraq.”
The report lists other weapon developments in each of the three Moslem countries.
Iran, for example, will begin producing missiles capable of hitting Israel later this year, thanks to manufacturing equipment from China and North Korea. German, Austrian and Swedish companies have helped Iran build the largest conventional weapons manufacturing base in the region.
The U.S. Department of Commerce has approved sales to Iran of high-tech equipment worth more than $324 million, half of which was classified by U.S. nuclear experts as particularly useful to weapons production.
These developments, the report warns, will make Iran the dominant power in the Persian Gulf region, with increasing control over oil prices and supplies.
In Syria, says Timmerman, “sophisticated chemical and biological weapons capability has produced a stockpile of a few thousand aerial bombs with deadly nerve gas. If used during the early hours of a war against Israel, these weapons would be capable of temporarily immobilizing Israeli airfields and of disrupting communication lines.”
France has played a crucial role in helping Syria develop chemical and biological weapons capability and in setting up its main foreign procurement organization. In addition, Syria has been secretly purchasing high-tech equipment from the United States and Europe for nuclear weapons research.
Libya, according to the report, has an estimated inventory of 100 tons of chemical weapons and is seeking to build up a delivery system through a long-range missile program conducted by German engineers and the purchase of a new generation of missiles from North Korea.
An unknown but potentially lethal factor in these equations is the extent to which actual nuclear arms, weapon-grade fuel and expert know-how from the former Soviet Union might fall into the hands of Iran, Syria and Libya, the report notes.
In an overview of the situation, Timmerman concludes that “the age of proliferation (of weapons of mass destruction) is upon us. It is not for the distant future; it is not even for the year 2000. It is now.”
The report proposes a number of steps to reverse the proliferation of dual-use and weapons technology. It urges Washington to set up a federal watchdog agency, separate from the Commerce Department, which now has contradictory responsibilities for both promoting U.S. trade abroad and limiting certain exports. Roughly the same system exists in Britain and Belgium, where enforcement is even more haphazard or deliberately ignored.
Another recommendation calls for creation of an international proliferation control agency, with common standards of enforcement and exchange of information.
In cover letters accompanying the report to President Bush, British Prime Minister John Major and Democratic presidential nominee Bill Clinton, Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center urge action by these and other world leaders to implement the recommendations.
A preview of the report was given last Thursday on the ABC-TV “Nightline” program, with the participation of Timmerman, William Triplett, a senior aide to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Kamel Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations.
Triplett emphatically confirmed Timmerman’s findings, stating at one point that “we’ve seen the same horror show as in Iraq.” The Iranian nuclear program “is a given, there is no argument about it,” he said.