Satellite images of suspect sites in Syria 370 (R).
(photo credit: Reuters / Handout)
The Assad regime appears to be edging ever closer to disintegration, and the US
and its allies may soon have to activate military contingency plans to secure or
destroy Syria’s arsenal of deadly chemical weapons.
As Israeli defense
officials have noted in recent weeks, the crumbling of Syria presents a
formidable threat to national, regional and global security, a threat that is
developing right on Israel’s doorstep.
The presence of disorganized armed
militias – some of them affiliated with hardline Islamist-jihadi movements – in
a land that hosts what some analysts consider the largest number of chemical
weapons in the world creates a clear danger that cannot be ignored. Without
external intervention, rebel fanatical elements or Assad’s close ally Hezbollah
may try to raid abandoned chemical weapons storage facilities.
in possession of large quantities of deadly Sarin and mustard gas compounds, as
well as VX nerve agents. Some of the compounds can be affixed to Scud missiles
as chemical warheads. The chemicals can also be placed in specialized artillery
shells, or dropped from the air.
It is safe to assume that the US and
others have long been preparing contingency plans to deal with this scenario,
which could involve a mix of ground forces and air strikes.
year, the Pentagon calculated that it would have to deploy 75,000 soldiers to
fully secure the weapons sites around Syria, according to a CNN report. The
projection was based on the estimation that Syria has some 50 chemical weapons
production sites spread out across the country, in addition to storage and
research centers. The report named Hama, Homs, Al-Safira and Latakia as
locations with production facilities.
Middle East and Syria expert Prof.
Eyal Zisser of Tel Aviv University told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that a
move against the chemical weapons could come before Assad’s final collapse, if
the Syrian dictator were to lose control of the weapons sites before falling
That could constitute the most dangerous scenario, as it
might leave room for the dying regime to respond to external
“A pinpoint strike on a warehouse or an underhanded
operation probably won’t get a response and won’t change anything,” Zisser
But a larger operation could result in the remnants of Assad’s
regime ordering a missile strike, he warned.
Therefore, a larger
operation by the US would necessitate an attack on Syria’s air force and missile
sites to prevent a response, he added.
Another scenario, as depicted by
Lt.-Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,
posits Assad as transferring “most of the surviving loyal forces and strategic
(including chemical) weaponry to the Alawite enclave in the west of the country
to serve as a deterrent to acts of revenge and a political card for ensuring the
Alawite community’s status in a future Syrian order.”
It remains unclear
whether Assad would be able to implement such a move, and if he could, whether
it would warrant intervention.
Syria has also been accused of operating a
secret biological weapons program. While few details are available on
counter-measures in this field, Israel is considered to have the most advanced
defense program against biological weapons in the world.