There is a lot of talk about Syrian government looking touse chemical weapons against its own people, in a last-ditch attempt by Basharal-Assad to hold on to power, or whether it is just a mere fear tactic by theSyrian government. In either case, Assad will lose ground, be it in the form ofan international response or rebel forces slowly gaining over Assad’s forces inSyria.
With the violence in Syria going on since March 2011, almost40,000 people have been killed in the clashes between President Basharal-Assad’s government and rebel forces who want his ouster.
The fighting has now reached Damascus, the capital city,with rebel forces slowly gaining over the Syrian government with the help ofPersian Gulf states. Intelligence reports state that Syria is moving chemicalweapons precursors, which has aroused fear that it may deploy them against itsown people.
Countries have made themselves very clear that Syria’s use ofchemical weapons would provoke an immediate international response. Already, USPresident has clearly stated that this choice of action on Syria’s part wouldbe a ‘tragic mistake’ for which they will be held accountable and would have toface consequences.
A question which arises is whether Syrian threat is real oris it a bluff to dissuade outside powers to support the opposition?
The problem is that intelligence gathering in an ongoingcivil war is a little difficult. If one looks back, in the first Gulf War, USwas concerned about Saddam Hussain launching a chemical attack, but the threatwas never realized.
However, this may be attributed to the fact that Iraq hadonly a small chemical weapons programme and Saddam Hussain was largely cheatedby his own people. But this is not the case with Syria. Syria’s chemical andbiological weapons program is well developed since the time of Bashar al-Assad’sfather, Hafez al-Assad, who made huge investments into it.
Another interesting fact is that last summer, the spokesmanof the Foreign Ministry, Jihad Makidissi, exposed the existence of Syria’s longrumoured chemical weapons, saying that the country would not use them unlessthere is an external aggression.
There is also the possibility that this announcement wasintentional to make the world know that Syria possessed chemical weaponscapability and could use it when necessary.
This ‘external aggression’ could include various forms ofexternal interferences and in the current case it may amount to the rebelsbeing assisted by countries ranging from the US, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabiaand various European countries like UK and France.
However, Syrian Foreign Ministry has publicly denied that itplans to use chemical weapons on its own people. But this was applicable tillthe time the conflict was an internal issue involving the Syrian government andthe rebel forces. The regime would have survived and the chemical weapons wouldnot have been used.
But, with the rebels having gained the ability to shoot downSyrian warplanes and helicopters with shoulder-fired anti-craft missilessupplied by the Persian Gulf states, the survival of the Syrian regime isthreatened. This existential threat could give a pretext to Assad’s forces touse chemical weapons.
Therefore, going by the dictates of logic, if Assad trulyfears for his survival, chemical weapons may be used in Syria. This would mean‘crossing the red line’ for other nations. Intelligence reports from NATO andTurkey have already confirmed increased activity at Syrian chemical weaponssites.
Israel has on a number of occasions asked Jordan forpermission to bomb Syrian chemical weapons sites, which Jordan turned down,fearing a response from the Syrian military on its territory. There are alsoconcerns that terrorists, such as Hezbollah and other groups could gain controlof Syria’s chemical weapons in the event of collapse of Assad’s regime.
As the situation in Syria is unfolding, the countries aregetting prepared to launch attacks on Syria in case of Assad regime useschemical weapons. NATO has already approved the deployment of Patriot missilesin Turkey in response to Syrian threat. Also, Syria’s neighbors have beenconducting contingency planning with the US over the past few months.
The trouble is that the consequences of the use of chemicalweapons are not restricted to national boundaries – as a result neighboringcountries to Syria would have to bear the consequences.
It would do good to launch a strong deterrence posture todissuade Assad from using chemical weapons, but when the question of existentialthreat to Assad’s regime comes up, this seems less likely. Whether he useschemical weapons or not, Assad seems to be losing ground in Syria.