Loss of WMD Control in Syria Guides U.S. Response

April 28, 2013 in Top News, World News

Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel Address the Press in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel briefs the press in Abu Dhabi, UAE on April 25. Hagel confirms according to a White House statement that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad has used chemical weapons against Syrian rebels. Source: Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/DOD.

The U.S. has been examining Syria’s use of chemical weapons in recent months, which possibly could serve as a trigger to direct U.S. intervention. The loss of control over such weapons is seen as a threat to U.S. interests. Any use of such weapons inherently challenges international conventions and political tolerance points regarding the Syria situation.

April 25, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel  told the press in Abu Dhabi, UAE, “the U.S. intelligence community assesses with some degree of varying confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria, specifically the chemical agent sarin.

He continued, “the intelligence community has been assessing information for some time on this issue, and the decision to reach this conclusion was made within the past 24 hours. …We cannot confirm the origin of these weapons, but we do believe that any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have been originated with the Assad regime.”

Early Saturday, famous blogger  Israel Matzav, also known as “Carl in Jerusalem”, wrote of Syria’s leader, “The biggest problem the West has with Bashar al-Assad is that to date, at least, he has not acted in line with their expectations.”

Matzav opines the totalitarian Syrian regime believes the U.S—particularly President Obama—will prove too pragmatic to risk intervention in Syria. The U.S. ultimately will simply back the winner of any conflict in Syria.

The use of chemical weapons against Syrians in Syria does not find its way into reports or testimony to Congress in a serious way. Recently reported uses of these agents in Syria appear to be substantiated, but are being reported as “limited”.

The Washington Post reports from Tel Aviv Israeli army intelligence chief Brig. Gen. Itai Brun said, “To the best of our professional understanding, the regime used lethal chemical weapons against gunmen in a series of incidents in recent months.”

A second senior, Israeli military officer—speaking anonymously—disclosed  chemical weapons appear to have been used in five cases, killing “dozens” of people when a “sarin-type” chemical was dispersed.

“Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Issues for Congress” by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service is getting special attention amid recent revelations of chemical weapons use by Assad. Coordinator and specialist in nonproliferation Mary Beth Nikitin, military ground forces specialist Andrew Feickert, and nonproliferation analyst Paul K. Kerr prepared the findings, published Dec. 5. The report deals with the existence of chemical and biological weapon programs in Syria, including the potential loss of control over such weapons as war conditions may degenerate further into chaos.

The report concludes, “The use, change of hands, or loss of control of chemical weapons stocks in Syria could have unpredictable consequences for the Syrian population as well as for U.S. allies and forces in the region. Congress may wish to assess the Administration’s plans to respond to possible scenarios involving the use, change of hands, or loss of control of Syrian chemical weapons. Forces, funding, and authorization by Congress may be required to address potential contingencies.”

According to the CRS, Israel Defense Forces Deputy Chief of Staff Major-General Ya’ir Nave described Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal as “the largest in the world” during a June 2012 interview. A 2011 report by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence states, however, Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its chemical weapons program.

The director’s office indicated, “Syria’s operational missile force can employ chemical as well as conventional warheads.”

They also describe Syria’s SRBM inventory as SS-21 and “Scud-class liquid propellant” missiles. Scud B and Scud C missiles are liquid-fueled. The CRS considers the possibility Syria would use its batteries of BM-21 multiple rocket launchers to deliver ordnance to targeted areas.

The CRS reports, “Scuds might be used for targeting a neighboring country, it is more likely that artillery rockets would be used on the battlefield against rebel forces. However, other well-known difficulties in the employment of chemical weapons include inability to control the gas cloud resulting from an attack, putting one’s own troops at risk without proper protection; contaminating the area attacked for days and weeks, depending on the chemical agent and weather conditions; and uncertain delivery of a lethal dose of the agent (due to dissipation of agents into the atmosphere or volatility of the agent).”

The use of WMD such as sarin-type chemicals by the Syrian regime is in itself an urgent concern to U.S officials. The loss of control of such weapons into the hands of any number of groups or entities may prove to be the more serious worry.

General Lloyd J. Austin, III testified before the House Appropriations Committee for Defense on the posture of U.S. Central Command in March saying, “WMD proliferation and the potential loss of control of WMD by regional governments, for example the potential loss of control of Syrian chemical weapons, pose a significant risk to the region and our most vital national security interests. The potential for WMD in the hands of non-state actors and extremist organizations cannot be addressed by traditional Cold War deterrence methods and presents a clear threat to our regional partners, innocent populations, and our forces and bases.”

U.S. officials believe the above scenario is exactly the direction in which the current situation is headed. That is the primary concern governing and delimiting U.S. responses to the situation.


Note:

Israel Matzav identifies himself as an Orthodox Jew. “Some would even call me ‘ultra-Orthodox,’“ he said. He operated the email list Matzav from 2000 to 2004 and has published as Carl in Jerusalem. He was born in Boston and worked as a corporate and securities attorney in New York City until 1991.