On Syria’s Alleged Chemical Weapons and the Prospect for War

John Glaser, December 03, 2012

There was some bluster on Monday in response to reports that the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad made the first step in weaponizing chemical stockpiles and also has moved them around to different locations in the country.

In terms of US action, the conflict in Syria has long been defined by the high rate of Islamic jihadists in the ranks of the rebel forces and by the lack of feasible military options for regime change at the disposal of the Obama administration. So, the US has said that the “red line” which would precipitate an American military intervention is if Assad uses chemical warfare on his own population.

So, apparently eyes have been kept on Assad’s chemical stockpiles. Danger Room reported the following exclusive:

Engineers working for the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas, an American official with knowledge of the situation tells Danger Room. International observers are now more worried than they’ve even [sic] been that the Damascus government could use its nerve agent stockpile to slaughter its own people.

The U.S. doesn’t know why the Syrian military made the move, which began in the middle of last week and is taking place in central Syria. Nor are they sure why the Assad government is transferring some weapons to different locations within the country, as the New York Times reported on Monday.

Whenever journalists report anonymous officials making claims that bolster the case for war, heavy scrutiny is in order. This official told Danger Room that “isopropanol, popularly known as rubbing alcohol, and methylphosphonyl difluoride” had been combined by Syrian engineers, which is the first step to weaponizing sarin gas. “They didn’t do it on the whole arsenal, just a modest quantity,” the official said. “We’re not sure what’s the intent.”

Even if the information is true, which is by no means a given, it’s not reasonable to assume the Assad regime is preparing to unleash chemical warfare on his people. The Obama administration has made it clear such action is a “red line” and even if Assad recognizes this as rhetoric issued for the deterrence factor (which it transparently is) it’s probably enough to disincentivize him from taking such action, if he were ever so inclined in the first place. Assad has been employing incredible force to quell this rebellion because it aims to eliminate him and his regime. The only thing worrying the Assad regime more than the rebellion is the prospect of some kind of US-led bombing campaign or invasion, which could undoubtedly topple the regime but would then lead to such destruction and chaos that the country would be ruined and a lengthy occupation and counter-insurgency effort would inevitably follow, à la Iraq. So Assad isn’t about to attract that sort of attention.

Additionally, for what its worth, Russia has guaranteed Assad’s restraint on chemical weapons use. That’s not a pledge one of the the five most powerful nations in the world makes lightly.

If I were to speculate, again, assuming the reports are true, Assad could be making such moves in order to deter international action against his regime. One of the primary reasons cited in Washington officialdom against initiating a no-fly zone or a bombing campaign in Syria is the fact that Assad’s anti-aircraft capabilities and chemical stockpiles are located in residential areas. This means any attempt to destroy them would put vast numbers of civilian lives at risk, making the humanitarian situation in the country far worse than it is currently, and thus defeating the pretext for intervention. Assad knows this has been an argument against military action, and his alleged moderate moves to make his chemical stockpiles more dangerous and to transfer them to different locations in the country could be playing on this factor.

It’s also true that, as much as the US has been trying to undermine the Assad regime by supporting the jihadist rebels, Washington prefers the chemical stockpiles be under the control of the Assad regime  rather than the rag tag rebel opposition. Take Michael Eisenstadt at the perpetually pro-war Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who notes that given the lack of feasible military options, “the preferred means of dealing with the problem of Syrian CW [chemical weapons] are deterrence, assistance, containment, and elimination.” Here’s his explanation of “assistance”:

To deal with the threat of diversion, the United States should quietly work with Russia, building on their history of cooperation on a variety of threat-reduction initiatives in order to offer Syria various means of maintaining accountability and control over its CW stockpile. While the United States does not have an interest in strengthening Assad, it does have an interest in the regime retaining control over its CW for as long as it is around (just as the United States offered the Soviet Union technology to help secure its nuclear arsenal during the Cold War, to avoid accidental or unauthorized use).

US military officials have been quick to point out the costs of war in Syria and the White House has consistently said that direct military intervention “would lead to greater chaos, greater carnage.” I don’t see them changing their tune any time soon, nor do I see the Assad regime using chemical weapons. The real concern is the proxy war being waged by the Obama administration which continues to bolster a dangerous band of criminal religious extremists. Not only is this morally and legally problematic, but it is laying the groundwork for further blowback.




40 Responses to “On Syria’s Alleged Chemical Weapons and the Prospect for War”

  1. There was never any intention of 'Syria' using "chemical warfare on his own population". This is another 'invention' Glaser…

    Obama never said anything about using 'chemical weapons' on the "Syrian people" specifically…and Assad has made it clear this will not happen–and none have been used in the 2 years or so this has been going on…

    Turkey wants to arm the boarder with Patriot Missiles….I fully expect the Assad regime to respond in kind to such "hostilities"… possibly even "moving them (the supposed 'chemical weapons') around" to other places–such as the Israeli boarder…

    The Obama Administration isn't playing with kids here…

  2. Same thing as Bush, same agenda as Bush, same politics as Bush.., when it comes to U.S foreign or domestic policies, the different is, this one is democrat, at least he calls himself that, the other one I am not sure what the hell he was referring himself to. As we said before.., democrats will kill you slowly but surly.., meanwhile they throwing the health care plan for you and those who didn't and still don't have anything to pay for so the insurance companies get paid in advance for the coffins.

  3. Mixing the precursors of a binary weapon will weaponize the warhead. It is as simple as that. There is no premixing, it occurs when the ordinance is fired as an artillery round, or pressure switch when dropped as a bomb. (http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/12/the-wired-syria-wmd-claim-is-false.html)

  4. See Moon of Alabama for the elementary fact that you do not pre-mix binary chemical weapons. The binary chemical components mix during flight.

  5. I suppose thes are the same chemical weapons we sold Iraq

  6. I thought it was quit comical that Assad said he would bomb Israel if he was atacked by Turkey or Saud Arabia . Why would he do that ? why not bomb Sauda Arabia or Turkey? Maybe Assad would bomb Turkey or Sauda Arabia if Israel bombed him .These mid eastern guys sure are funny .

  7. Actually, all countries are against with chemical bomb. And I think everybody would response for this issue like what the Obama administration did.

  8. Mystery solved, Turkey gets NATO shield, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20590129. No fuss, no muss. I thought we were all going to die.

  9. The world has gone nuts.

  10. This is some kabuki dance that Obama is in. Threatens to obliterate an Arab chief of state who has chemical weapons IF he uses them against his own people and says NUTTING if an Israeli chief of state continually starves and or shoots non-Iraelis.

    President James Garfield said it best, "whoever controls the volume of money in any country is master of all."

  11. End result: Al Qaeda gets SAMs and Sarin.

    Enjoy the Arab Spring. I know UBL is.

  12. Why not use gas against those foreign killers sent by USA? When inhabitants had the chance to escape from those terrorists, they can be killed without damaging the houses of the people!? They are U.S./Saudi-paid murderers who killed ten thousands and destroyed the wealth of Syria – they deserve the death sentence. But better would be a gas attack to wallstreet, war industry HQs and withehouse who are behind this worldwide killings, faked civil wars and “uprises” from the Balkans to Middle east. It’s proofed – see http://www.08oo.wordpress.com
    and what dirty war propaganda is again delivered by showing Obama as the thinker. He is desperate for faking a reason to attack a peaceful country he and former US governments did attack with their proxy guerrilla fighters. Its the age of US Army unconventional warfare – see the link above.

  13. Ever heard of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident ………..

  14. of course US use of DU weaponry and Israeli use of phosphorus bombs does not count, cluster bombs and mines used by those two and others do not harm civilians. Sure, Sure.

  15. OBAMA is a Liar and a war criminal and baby killer. He is spreading lies about 'chemical weapon' so he can use it through his thugs, you call the Syrian 'opposition' then FABRICATE THE STORY that Assad is using 'chemical weapon on his own people', then based on LIES AND DECEPTION, like the war criminal George Bush and Tony Blair, to stage a military response to kill thousands of people in cooperation with war criminals in NATO including Erdogan from Turkey. Putin is cooperating with the war criminal Obama and will pretend that is oppose but in fact has sold Syria like Libya to receive concessions. Down with war criminals and phony 'leaders' around the world especially the Russian who have cooperated fully with Israel and US and then claim otherwise. We want nothing but total destruction of the war criminals so we can have peace on planet.

  16. Syria's alleged chemical weapons have something in common with Iraq's alleged weapons of mass distraction.

  17. One more thing…, NATO is a illegal militarism regime created by the west for defending Europe during USSR, there is no USSR any more but they do exist and continue to be used by the Europeans as a military force, as the did during Balkan-Yugoslavian war, Iraq, Libya and now Syria.

  18. Obama’s pressure on al-Asad about Syria’s chemical weapons appears to be a repeat of 2003. Having abetted the rebellion that has fractured the country, it is a bit fatuous to lament control over WMDs. Has anyone even asked who would be more likely to provide al-Qaeda with these arms–Asad’s secular government or Salafist rebels? Apparently, it makes little difference who sits in the Oval Office when it comes to blundering in the Middle East.

  19. [...] US and its NATO allies this week issued bombastic statements about a “red line” for military intervention in Syria if the regime of Bashar al-Assad uses [...]

  20. Dislike term blowback, prefer term payback!
    Too easy on perpetrators, which infers guilt of first sin against an innocent.
    Too easy for perpetrators to come home, those who ever left, and hide behind the rest of populace and let them pay the cost of their actions.

  21. The Obama administration is definitely in the final stages of preparing some kind of military intervention in Syria. Along with this bogus chemical WMD nonsense, we now have CNN headline stories about rape being used by the ruling power in Syria as a weapon of war. Yes, rape is without question among the most horrific of human crimes, but reports of mass rape have been used before as a very effective propaganda tool to politically facilitate western "humanitarian" military intervention (cf. Bosnia).
    http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/05/opinion/wolfe-s

  22. [...] from the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons stockpilesThe US and its NATO allies this week issued bombastic statements about a “red line” for military intervention in Syria if the regime of Bashar al-Assad [...]

  23. Don't know if Syria has such weapons in the first place. But it would make sense to store the components used to make sarin instead of storing sarin , long term.

  24. [...] US and its NATO allies this week issued bombastic statements about a “red line” for military intervention in Syria if the regime of Bashar al-Assad uses [...]

  25. If Assad uses chemical warfare on his own population.

  26. I understand that the phrase "jumping the shark" refers to the repeated use of an old "schtick" to revitalize a failing fictional scenario (supposedly named after the Happy Days TV character, The Fonz, who in declining days kept pulling out an old chestnut – jumping a shark tank on a motorcycle) alerted critics that the TV series was totally exhausted. I believe that "jumping the shark" is synonymous with the threat of WMDs in the hands of Hitlerlike tyrants (i.e. Arab leaders). Unfortuneatly, (or fortuneatly for the producers) this audience is slow; very slow; terrifyingly slow.

  27. The Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad made the first step in weaponizing chemical stockpiles and also has moved them around to different locations in the country.

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  31. ping the shark" refers to the repeated use of an old "schtick" to revitalize a failing fictional scenario (supposedly named after the Ha

  32. The Obama administration is definitely in the final stages of preparing some kind of military intervention in Syria. Along with this bogus chemical WMD nonsense, we now have CNN headline stories about rape being used by the ruling power in Syria as a weapon of war.

  33. There really needs to be a reliable, consistent counter-news source who has the confidence and trust of US victim nations to get the straight scoop from their point of view.

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