by Efraim Karsh
After years of denials, the Syrian regime has admitted to possessing a weapons-grade chemical arsenal. Despite a disclaimer that such weapons would never be used "inside Syria," Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi cautioned that Syria would not hold back if "exposed to external aggression." Many analysts see these statements as a warning to Israel, the United States, and other allied countries not to attempt an armed intervention in the Syrian crisis. U.S. intelligence officials are monitoring a disturbing rise in activity and movement of chemical weapons by the regime.
Non-conventional weapons expert Dany Shoham has detailed Syria's CBW capabilities in a Middle East Quarterly article, "Guile, Gas and Germs: Syria's Ultimate Weapons." He reports: "As early as 1992, the U.S. Defense Department ranked Syria as the sole Muslim state possessing a 'chemical systems capability in all critical elements' for chemical weapons. And in recent years, Syria has added biological weapons to its store—weapons with far more strategic value than chemical weapons."
In Shoham's second look at Syria's arsenal, "Poisoned Missiles: Syria's Doomsday Deterrent," he poses several possible scenarios for the regime's use of chemical or biological weapons—one scenario bears a chilling similarity to the current situation:
"The Syrians would justify the use of chemical weapons by claiming that their very survival was at stake. If Syria were on the brink of military defeat, any use of chemical weapons would almost certainly be aimed at the source of the immediate danger: Israeli forces, other targets at the front, and air force bases. … a chemical attack on civilian targets cannot be ruled out."
Heightening the current danger is the possibility that if the regime falls, the Syrian weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists including the regime's Lebanese proxy Hezbollah or al-Qaeda operatives. However, Makdissi sought to downplay this threat, saying that the country's "chemical or bacterial weapons" are "stored and secured by Syrian military forces."
To understand exactly how dangerous Syria's chemical and biological arsenal is, read Dany Shoham's articles in the Middle East Quarterly—one of America's most authoritative journals of Middle Eastern affairs.Efraim Karsh
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