Monday, August 27, 2012

Syrian chemical weapons: truth and fiction

The last argument against the invasion of Syria by foreign troops

by Ioncube Khanz

(Readers are encouraged to add/edit/replace any references, opinions can be given via comments)

The situation in Syria continues to be extremely challenging, fighting between government troops and the rebels did not subside. It's time once again to recall the statement of the representative of the Syrian Foreign Ministry Jihad Maqdisi, "No chemical or non-conventional weapons would not be used against our citizens. These weapons will be used only in the event of external aggression." He also said that all the warehouses of chemical weapons in the country are under the control of government forces. In fact, Damascus officially acknowledged a means of mass destruction, because previously there were only suspicions.

Dramatized misinformation

Most probably, this move is a warning to those who are willing to side with the Syrian opposition. Of course, the U.S. is not a threat to scare, but Turkey and Jordan - can be. Significantly, just after the Jihad Maqdisi statement we found Americans and the Israelis being provoked to take tough action against the Assad regime. For example, free Syrian Army (SSA) reported that government troops allegedly transferred part of chemical weapons and special equipment at border airports. It does not specify which border is meant and what about the airport - military or civilian - is at stake. Furthermore, the communiqué stated that the transfer was conducted over several months in order to put pressure on the region and the international community.

Deployment of each new store, especially in the field, requires enhanced security but Syrian authorities have little power now. In fact, they can only rely on those few Alawi units.

Detrimentalness of SSA communiqué can be recognized when he addressed senior IDF General Amos Gilad. "Do not worry about the information that has not the slightest importance, as well as the facts were not there - he said.  Israel can sleep peacefully. They do not have to change their way of life as well as to listen to this dramatized information. "

Another alleged misinformation by rebels is the use of chemical weapons by government forces against Sunnis in the province of Hama. According to foreign journalists (present among the opposition) no field commander, a doctor or a regular fighter was able to provide any conclusive evidence.

Secret Arsenal

Is there a chemical arsenal in Damascus? It seems that just about no one knows except the Syrians. Syria is one of the few countries that has not signed the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and therefore not a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). However, its general manager Ahmed Üzümcü, noting that Syria may have significant stocks of chemical weapons, including highly-lethal chemicals, nevertheless said: "Without a physical inspection by the OPCW we can not speculate on the subject of the validity of these reports or comment on them."

Back in early 1992, the Pentagon has called Syria the only Muslim country having all the critical elements necessary for chemical weapons. The head of U.S. military intelligence Ronald Bargess report annually to the Senate hearings that the Syrian chemical weapons program develops stocks of nerve gas, which can be applied by aircraft or ballistic missiles. In turn, the expert of the American research center at the Monterey Institute of Leonard Spector convinced that Syria may have a stockpile of chemical weapons in the hundreds of tons. According to the press, they are the largest in the Middle East, including mustard gas, sarin, tabun, VX.

Damascus began to acquire chemical agents and their delivery technology in 70’s[1]. This was a response to Israel's possession of nuclear weapons. According to western data corresponding technologies were obtained by Egypt, then by the USSR and West Germany. Syrians received help from various companies from the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Great Britain and Austria.

In 2003, the U.S. intelligence community for the first time stated that prior to the second invasion of Iraq, Syrians managed to bring its arsenal of chemical weapons into Syria, moreover with the participation of the Russian special forces. But this claim was not supported by any evidence[2]. Pointed to the fact that since 2005, Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons was provided by Iran.

It is believed that Syria has the technology of synthesis of synthesis of organophosphorus poisoning technologies, particularly super-toxic sarin and VX. Syrian chemical weapons depots are located in the mountainous region to the east of Damascus, near Homs, Hama and Aleppo. The last rocket deployed headquarters compounds the Syrian army, which supervises three missile brigades with tactical and operational-tactical ballistic missiles. Not far from the cities just mentioned, there are also factories producing chemical weapons disguised as pharmaceutical companies. Overall management of the program development and enhancement of indigenous Syrian chemical arsenal is carried out by Research Center in Damascus (SSRC)[3].

Tactical missiles (which Syria has more than enough) can be equipped with chemical warheads. There is information on the possible presence of a Syrian army artillery shells filled with chemical weapons for the field artillery caliber 122, 130 and 152 mm.

The Syrian military doctrine of chemical weapons is a defensive tool, designed to support a "strategic parity" with Israel and use only in case of large-scale aggression against Syria, especially on the part of the Jewish state.

Option against

The issue of control over the Syrian chemical weapons, to prevent their falling into the hands of terrorist organizations is a real headache for Washington, Tel Aviv and Amman.

IDF Chief of General Staff Gen. Benny Gantz on July 25 discussed with the members of the parliamentary committee on foreign policy and defense of Israel's two options with respect to Syria. The first involves a pre-emptive strike on Syrian chemical weapons depots. This will help to some extent, to avoid the danger of capture by radical Islamist groups. But any failure in applying the blow can warn Damascus setting grounds for chemical retaliation.

Another argument in favor of this option - warehouses, built to the east of Damascus, are well-protected and protected objects. Eliminating them will be difficult.

However the details of such operations clearly played upon in the course of large-scale multinational exercises of special forces, held in Jordan in May of this year.

The second option is a bit exotic. Ganz suggested to wait until Damascus attempt transporting chemical weapons to another location. Then you can try to destroy it. The question is, why would Syria will do such shipments.

Head of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman warned that the IDF will immediately start fighting against radical Islamists if they take over the Syrian chemical weapons. "For us, it is a reason for the war, is a red line," - he said.

However, a senior IDF Amos Gilad admitted that Syrian arsenal is completely controlled by the authorities. "Anxiety, of course, is the fact that the regime will be destabilized and control will be destabilized, too" -predicted Gilad confidently. And then he added: "According to our information," Hezbollah "has no chemical weapons of Syrian origin, as there is no information on the transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda.

Here is the opinion of the former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, Hezbollah "could use chemical weapons, but the organization needs to prepare for such an attack, and it will take a long time. It is not possible to apply chemical weapons on the day following its acquisition."

Yadlin believes that the only means of delivering chemical weapons for Hezbollah are rockets. However, the warheads for them still have to be created and technically it is not a simple task. In addition, it will take more than a single, massive use of the rockets, that is also quite problematic from the point of view of the preparation of such a scale. Experts believe that the Americans are closely watching the warehouse, where stocks are concentrated, using the space reconnaissance and special operations units.

In the meantime...

The newspaper "Al-Watan" reported that, according to an unnamed Arab diplomat, Tehran strongly advised Ankara not to undertake military intervention in Syria. "Ankara is ready to work with Washington for military intervention in Syrian affairs, using the Kurdish issue as an excuse, but Iran thwarted those dream", noted in the comments of the newspaper.

Shortly before the publication of this material, Prime Minister Erdogan has accused Damascus of admission to some areas in the north of Syria's military forces and the Kurdistan Workers Party, warned that Ankara could use their "right" to pursue the PKK on Syrian territory[4].

A day later, the information "Al-Watan" confirmed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army of Iranian Masoud Jazairi saying "all units of resistance to Israel, including the Lebanese movement Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamist movement, are friends of the Syria." Also, "it had the support of the great powers - Russia and China." This Iranian warning was not addressed only to the U.S. and its Western allies, but also Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey. Iran regularly accuses for financing Syrian rebels.

Overall, despite the threat of chemical weapons, Damascus seems unlikely to use them[5]. Asaad’s regime hardly dare to go to such a step, as it will lead to unjustified victims among the civilian population, and among the government troops, who are unlikely to get ready for such an action in time. In addition, Syria is well aware that any attempt to use chemical weapons will permanently shutdown support of Moscow and Beijing.


  1. Syria's chemical weapons

  2. Russia denies sending chemical weapons to Syria

  3. Guile, Gas and Germs: Syria's Ultimate Weapons

  4. Turkey eyes Syrian crisis through lens of Kurdish stability

  5. Russia confident Syria will not use chemical weapons


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