Reports that Iran is sending chlorine bombs to Syria have prompted lawmakers to criticize the Obama administration for ignoring Iran’s non-nuclear efforts to foster terrorism and discord across the Middle East.
Western intelligence officials suspect that Iran has been sending Chinese-made chlorine gas to Syria in a bid to bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s war against opposition forces.
Iran reportedly has some 10,000 canisters of the deadly gas and has been shipping them by plane to Syria, according to the Telegraph.
Leading foreign policy figures on Capitol Hill told the Washington Free Beacon that Iran’s military support for Assad highlights the need for the United States to clamp down on Iran’s non-nuclear illicit actions.
"These allegations are disturbing but sadly not surprising and serve as a timely reminder that Iran’s nefarious activities go far beyond their nuclear weapons program," Rep. Doug Lamborn (R., Colo.), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told the Free Beacon.
"This Iranian regime has shown repeatedly that it feels no need to observe international agreements and only uses [nuclear] negotiations [with the West] as political cover while pursuing its own goals," Lamborn said. "Iran’s support of Syria, potentially including chlorine bombs, has directly led to thousands of deaths."
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R., Fla.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Free Beacon that Iran’s purported shipments of chlorine bombs is consistent with its efforts to spread terrorism and bolster rogue regimes.
"I wouldn’t be surprised if the reports alleging that Iran is supplying Assad with chlorine gas bombs are true because the regime in Tehran needs Assad to remain in power," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Iran has a vested interest in keeping Assad in power because Syria is the lynchpin of Iran’s global terror campaign."
Issues such as Iran’s weapons proliferation and chemical weapons stores are not even a topic of discussion in talks with Western nations, Ros-Lehtinen said.
"Iran continues to thumb its nose at the United States, and the rest of the P5+1, since Iran’s proliferation of chemical weapons and its support for terror aren’t even a factor in consideration under the current negotiations," she said. "President Obama must not continue to view Iran’s enrichment program in a vacuum, but take into account the totality of Iran’s illicit and nefarious activities."
In early April "Syrian planes dropped the new weapon, made of Chinese-manufactured chlorine gas canisters rigged with explosive detonators, on Kafr Zita near Hama," according to the Debka File, which first reported on the Iran connection. "Since then, British and French intelligence sources have reported at least four such attacks against the northern towns of Idlib and Homs and the Harasta and Jobar districts outside Damascus."
Debka claimed that "Assad is dropping these gas bombs at the rate of one every three days."
Iran has vigorously denied sending chlorine bombs to Syria, telling state-run media outlets that it is "a lie" perpetuated by Zionist news outlets.
"This is not the first time that this Zionist news outlet spreads lies to deviate the world’s public opinion from realities," the Iranian Foreign Ministry said last week.
However, these denials have only stoked concerns among regional experts.
"The mullahs are using Syria as a testing ground for weapons of mass destruction—pushing the boundaries of international law and taking note of the reaction—while maintaining plausible deniability by acting through their proxy, the Assad regime, in case they overstep any red lines and incur some sort of punitive response," said Jacob Campbell, a senior fellow of the Humanitarian Intervention Centre, a foreign policy think-tank.
"What they have learnt, however, is that nobody has the willpower to enforce these red lines, which sets a very dangerous precedent for a regime with an active nuclear weapons program," said Campbell, who has written about the issue.
Asked to comment on Iran's reported shipments of chlorine bombs, the White House referred the Free Beacon to the U.S. intelligence community. The CIA would not comment on the record about the reports.
A recent State Department report on terrorism across the globe singled out Iran for supporting rogue actors in more than 15 countries.
"Iran remains the most active state-sponsor of terrorism and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, both through the terrorist actions of Hezbollah and by directly supplying explosives used to kill American soldiers in Iraq," said Lamborn.
"Even as nuclear negotiations continue, we must not be suckered into forgetting the true nature of the Iranian regime or tricked into loosening sanctions on Iran that are aimed at their support for terrorism," he said.