This afternoon in Paris, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United Nations, not the United States, would be enforcing the terms of the Syria chemical weapons deal agreed to this weekend.
Kerry said that the United States, France and Great Britain “will not tolerate avoidance or anything less than full compliance." Kerry, while visiting Israel this past weekend, also said that the “the threat of force is real” if Syria does not comply with the terms of the deal.
But by giving enforcement power to the United Nations, Kerry has essentially invalidated any threats of force by the United States. This is for a very simple reason: any use of force authorized by the United Nations needs Russia’s approval. And events in recent weeks show that Vladimir Putin is not likely to budge from his position that military forced should not be used.
Details about how the agreement would be enforced were vague all weekend. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that the agreement would be backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution but gave no details on what that resolution would include as punishment for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s non-compliance.
Had the agreement been enforced by the United States, President Obama could authorize military strikes if Assad refused to surrender his chemical weapons. Now, the most likely punishments are sanctions against his government.
This is precisely why the terms of the Syrian deal were met with skepticism in Israel. Lawmakers there said they were excited by the prospect that a long-time regional ally would be stripped of its chemical weapons. But they were not optimistic that Assad could be trusted.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz called the proposal "substantive" but warned, "We know Assad. All kinds of things could happen."
Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said the only option now was to wait to see if Assad complies.
“After we see the list of what Assad has handed over in a week, we can know if his intentions are serious or if it is just deception," Lieberman told Israeli Army Radio.