“Chemical Weapons in Syria: Fact, Fiction, and Fib,” by Aron Lund

Chemical Weapons in Syria: Fact, Fiction, and Fib
by Aron Lund*
Syria Comment, December 8, 2012

On the WMD discussion in your last post, which I think was spot on: My guess is that what’s happening is that some intelligence agencies are really picking up signals of WMD motion on the ground, but that the dramatic “mixing sarin and putting it into bombs” info is pure propaganda. It seems designed to spook the public, make a case for intervention, and, to some extent, force the hand of the Obama administration.

In the unlikely event that Assad has really started activating his WMD capacity, it could be for a military purpose or as a political signal. There are basically three things he would be interested in: 1) to threaten any would-be intervention force, e.g. Turkey, 2) to remind everyone that he could carry out a lethal last strike on Israel if the regime falls, 3) possibly, to shift chemical material over to allies in Lebanon, to create a kind of second-strike capability if the regime is attacked and unable to respond.

None of these things involve gassing populated areas in Syria with air-dropped bombs. It could perhaps be done, but it would be hugely counter-productive, not least in terms of an international response, and it’s obviously dangerous on a complex close-quarters battlefield such as Syria’s. It is certainly possible that the regime could have an internal meltdown and start making irrational choices, but so far its decision-makers seem to be acting rationally and in their own best interest. Given that, they’re not going to be poison-gassing Aleppo anytime soon.

On the other hand, some opposition groups and their sympathizers try to plant these stories all the time. As you’ll remember, there was a similar WMD scare in Syria in the summer. That time, US officials eventually came forth and said that they were reassured that Syria had their WMD under control – reassured by Syria itself, I imagine. There’s an odd confluence of interests here. Neither Obama nor Assad want the media to report that a publicly declared US red line has been breached, since that would compel the US to either do something or lose face.

All that said, I think it’s very likely that Assad is currently shifting around his WMD infrastructure to retain control over it, which would mean there is some actual motion on the ground. For example, one of the main chemical warfare installations is allegedly in al-Safira (S/E of Aleppo). That means it would be liable to fall into rebel hands as of right now, if Assad didn’t do something about it. SCUD launch pads and other relevant material would also have to be brought out of rebel reach, or away from areas that have been deprived of effective SAM cover through the loss of air defense installations – rebels are taking these in large numbers. So it’s not surprising at all that the regime is moving stuff around.

As a backgrounder on Syria’s WMD situation, this 74-page report from Sweden’s FOI is very good: www2.foi.se/rapp/foir1290.pdf. It’s in English.

*Aron Lund is author of a report on Syrian jihadism for the Swedish Institute of Foreign Affairs, a shorter version is at Foreign Policy: “Holy Warriors: A field guide to Syria’s jihadi groups,” He also is author of  Drömmen om Damaskus (“The Dream of Damascus”) and a regular contributor to Syria Comment.

Comments (173)


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151. ghufran said:

نفت قناة “الاخبارية السورية” خبر انشقاق السفير السوري في الجزائر نمير وهيب الغانم الذي تناقلته وسائل الاعلام، وأشار السفير الغانم الى أنه ما زال على رأس عمله سفيراً لسوريا في الجزائر.
Librahimi and Clinton are talking about Geneve conference principles as the basis for any future agreement on Syria, if that position is final why there is no movement to start a tarnsitional period and stop the violence?
Reef Dimashq and Dimashq are still tense but the rebels in that area are not in a better position today compared to last week, and that can not be good for rebels if their goal is to change the balance of power in and around the capital.
Aleppo was punished by the rebels who helped destroy and loot over 200 factories and transformed Syria’s richest city into a war zone where people stand in line for 3 hours to get bread, most Aleppines in return will never support the rebels, this lack of support,not the air raids, is what stopped the rebels from completely controlling the city.

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December 9th, 2012, 11:18 pm

 

152. MarigoldRan said:

Regime supporters like Zoo are getting very creative in trying to explain why the regime is not losing.

Once again, bravo! I always knew there were crazy, deluded people out there. Now I have confirmation of my theory. I’ve always wanted to know what sort of idiocy they’ll spew, and now I know.

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December 9th, 2012, 11:20 pm

 

153. zoo said:

While Qatar and KSA are paying the salaries and offering expensive and sophisticated deadly wepons to armed rebels fighting against an Arab leader and its Arab supporters, they turn away from the desperate calls from Palestinians civilians squeezed by the Israelis.

Palestinian president appeals for urgent Arab aid

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — The Palestinian president is urging Arab nations to provide major financial assistance to cover a new monthly $100 million budgetary shortfall after U.N. recognition of Palestinian claims to statehood — the result of a punitive Israeli measure.

The appeal by Mahmoud Abbas reflects the severe financial fallout from last month’s landmark vote in the U.N. and a fresh push by Palestinians to take advantage of the international momentum to rally Arab backing for peace talks and possible concessions by Israel.

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December 9th, 2012, 11:22 pm

 

154. MarigoldRan said:

@Ghurfan

The rebels don’t need to win in Damascus. If they can keep the regime occupied there, the FSA will make gains elsewhere.

The regime is collapsing in Idlib and Aleppo provinces.

The FSA will probably not be able to take Damascus this time. But as long as they did better than last time, they would have shown improvement, and the regime would have gotten weaker.

Let’s say Assad holds on for 6 months. That’s a big “if” by the way. But even if he holds on for 6 months, so what? The rebels are going to keep on fighting, and the regime will continue to weaken.

The regime can hold on to Damascus for the next six months, probably. But can they do it for a year? 2 years? 10 years? How many Alawites are willing to give up their lives for Damascus?

The war continues. No one will negotiate with Assad.

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December 9th, 2012, 11:23 pm

 

155. Aldendeshe said:

We trying to help them the revolutionary in Syria, and here, they gave us negatives thumb down now, what a crak these dim wits are. Maybe they are in fact here just Israeli and French intel operatives, we blew their cover. They are not happy.

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December 9th, 2012, 11:23 pm

 

156. Sami said:

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December 9th, 2012, 11:26 pm

 

157. Visitor said:

It looks like Ms. Clinton will be late only one day for the meeting of the ‘imbeciles’.

What she has in mind can best be described as anticlimactic. She will offer Moaz and co. recognition urging them to form a government. However, this government, being aptly named government in exile, will only have jurisdiction over humanitarian functions dealing with taking care of refugees.

Nothing will be offered as far as actual Syria liberation and perceived support for FSA. It appears that Washington has made up its mind as to it’s limited options as far as the actual battle is concerned. So it will simply watch until something goes wrong with the Chems. In order to ensure Israeli security. Fullstop for USA superpower role.

In the meantime, the FSA is accumulating enough armament to storm the hideouts of the jackal and his stooges in due time.

Make maximum benefits of your donations by directly sending it to the FSA. Say no to Red Cross, say no to Red Crescent, say no to HCI, say no to agents of ‘charity=defeat’. Say yes to Action Direct = FSA Victories.

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December 9th, 2012, 11:31 pm

 

158. Syrian Nationalist Party said:

France, the United Kingdom, Israel and Qatar have prepared yet another plan intervention in Syria. 6000 new jihadists, including 4000 from Lebanon, should attack shortly Mazzeh residential area, south of Damascus
_________________________________________________________________

Looks like the Syrian army have 3 more days of full time work,they hate that. Don’t believe it, too far fetched, insane, the VX story may hold some truth.

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December 9th, 2012, 11:33 pm

 

159. Syrian Nationalist Party said:

This is for that subhuman Korean stooge BAN that heads the United Nations Rockefeller Crime organization:

WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO DO ABOUT THESE TERRORIST NOW:
WATCH THIS VIDEO DISRESPECTED MOTHER F****R :

http://www.syriatruth.org/الأخبار/أحداثالسـاعة/tabid/93/Article/8761/Default.aspx

Bashar serves them Chocolate too. How about a VX Power drink with that Dark Chocolate Bashar!!!

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December 10th, 2012, 12:03 am

 

160. ann said:

155. Syrian Nationalist Party said:

Bashar serves them Chocolate too. How about a VX Power drink with that Dark Chocolate Bashar!!!

You’re too much SNP 😀

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December 10th, 2012, 12:06 am

 

161. ghufran said:

Liwaa Al-Tawheed will be added to Jabhat Al-Nusra as a terrorist organization according to US sources, that will bring more questions than answers including how syrian expats who openly support the two groups(and some have asked for a tax expemption, to donate money to islamist rebels) will be treated by the FBI and law enforcement agencies, another question is how far the US government is willing to go to put its money where its mouth is, this designation of the the two groups will allow the CIA to perform undercover operations in Syria and even send drones in the name of fighting terrorism,and the US is likely to ask the FSA to distance itself from the two groups or fight them before weapons and money ,sent by US and its friends,are allowed to reach the FSA.
whoever was behind sending those Jihadists to Syria was either an enemy of the Syrian state or a total idiot, those Jihadists will make Bashar look good after he is gone while Syrians have to live with car bombs, suicide attacks and assassinations for years to come compliment of Al-Qaida et Al.

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December 10th, 2012, 12:09 am

 

162. ann said:

161. ghufran said:

Liwaa Al-Tawheed will be added to Jabhat Al-Nusra as a terrorist organization according to US sources, that will bring more questions than answers including how syrian expats who openly support the two groups(and some have asked for a tax expemption, to donate money to islamist rebels) will be treated by the FBI and law enforcement agencies?

They should start by rounding up those Islamist terrorist sympathizers posting on this blog

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December 10th, 2012, 12:19 am

 

163. Aron Lund said:

Sami # 150 – “What do you mean when you say the regime is acting rationally and in its own best interests?”

I mean that the people who control the regime are not just killing civilians for fun. They’re doing what they’re doing to stay in power, or at least preserve as much influence as possible in the future Syria, whether it gets a new government or turns into endless civil war. Their goal is to protect themselves and the people and the interests they represent. That doesn’t mean they always get it right and succeed in furthering their own cause, but they’re trying their best, through violence, diplomacy, and propaganda. See also my answer to Altair above at 106.

Look at it this way: if Bashar had accepted real reform and free elections, he would have been out of power already.

Chemical weapons: I don’t say it’s morally beyond the regime to use chemical weapons, I’m saying that it would be politically catastrophic and militarily counter-productive, and they probably realize this themselves.

In the future, their calculations may change, as Joshua Landis pointed out in his post on the matter a couple of days ago. For example if they lose both Damascus or Aleppo, or if there’s a foreign intervention, or a pitched final battle, there’s a much larger chance that the WMD arsenal will come into play. But at this stage, I think it’s very unlikely.

The opposition should be wary of crying wolf – I remember some opposition activists making claims of chemical warfare all the way back in spring/summer 2011. There’s really no need to exaggerate the crimes of the regime at this point.

As for Saddam Hussein, that was a very different conflict, but my assumption is he was more detached from reality than Bashar. It was also more of a one-man rule. Qaddafi is an even more extreme example.

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December 10th, 2012, 7:42 am

 

164. Observer said:

Yes ZOO your post hit a sensitive cord; the cord of laughter at the sheer delusion of your post.

Justice for Hamza

Cheers

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December 10th, 2012, 7:54 am

 

165. Visitor said:

Aron Lund @163,

Your response is as laughable as your reporting.

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December 10th, 2012, 8:29 am

 

166. zoo said:

It seem that the promoters of the chaos in Syria have no other attitude than laughing in unisson… I can’t hear them ( thank God) but I guess they are hysterical laughs as these people are slowly realizing that their arguments and predictions are hot air and fail to be based on the reality. Not the Idlib or Kafranbel ‘realities’ but on the overall geopolitical game on which Syria’s fate depends.
Keep laughing if it relieves your anxiety. There will be plenty time to cry.

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December 10th, 2012, 9:24 am

 

167. zoo said:

Jabhat al Nusra and its terrorist allies take parts of Sheikh Suleiman army base where allegedly there are chemical laboratories…

http://news.yahoo.com/syrian-rebels-capture-parts-army-north-095206021.html

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads to Observatory, said the rebels who stormed Sheik Suleiman belong to hardline Islamic militant groups.

Abdul-Rahman told The Associated Press that fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, Mujahedeen Shura Council and the Muhajireen group took part in the battle for the Sheik Suleiman base.

U.S. officials have said the Obama administration is preparing to designate the Jabhat al-Nusra group, which has alleged ties to al-Qaida, a terrorist organization.

The Observatory said the rebels seized key sectors of the base, home of 111th Regiment, including its command center.

A resident in Damascus, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal, told The AP that he was hearing cracks of gunfire and explosions inside and outside the capital early Monday.
( A real ‘decisive’ war going on in Damascus..).

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December 10th, 2012, 9:29 am

 

168. zoo said:

Visitor

Will you laugh or cry at the ‘brilliant’ achievements of the opposition after two years that you predict will happen in Marakesh?

– A political wing confirmed to be a just an humanitarian wing
– A military wing with a significant part of it confirmed to be outlawed ‘terrorists’

“However, this government, being aptly named government in exile, will only have jurisdiction over humanitarian functions dealing with taking care of refugees.”

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December 10th, 2012, 9:39 am

 

169. zoo said:

Morsi continues his amateurish ruling by cancelling taxes he announced recently in a bid to win the hearts of the Egyptian. Now that he is sure the army that he pampered, is on his side, he can continue his ad-hoc gouvernance… If not a political disaster, an economical disaster is looming in the short term.

http://news.yahoo.com/egyptian-army-takes-over-security-ahead-vote-115015693.html

It was not immediately clear why Morsi changed his mind about the tax hikes in a matter of hours, but the about-face appeared to have more to do with inexperience rather than a bid by the president to appear sympathetic with the majority of Egyptians who struggle daily to make end meet as the economy’s woes deepen. A popular backlash against tax hikes could hurt the chances of the Morsi-backed draft constitution being ratified in the referendum.

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December 10th, 2012, 9:50 am

 

170. Visitor said:

Zoo @168,

Your comment is incoherent and makes no sense. Actually, it is not clear what you are trying to say.

I can only figure that you are interested in knowing when I will laugh or cry. So, I will try to satisfy your curiosity.

I always laugh when you make a comment.

I will only cry when you leave Syriacomment after your idol gets demolished.

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December 10th, 2012, 9:57 am

 

171. zoo said:

#170

More to laugh..

The Al Nusra that just occupied a Syrian army base will soon be nominated for the ‘Best Terrorists achievement” award in the festival of Marakesh.

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December 10th, 2012, 10:10 am

 

172. Visitor said:

#171,

It is the most laughable. But Piggy will be spared the ridicule because she will be long gone. It is her predecessor (Rice?) who will have to struggle to find means to sort out Piggy’s mess when he/she realizes that al-Nusra is indispensible and will be the main player in Syria.

But I do not think Piggy is so stupid, and she’s probably feigning sickness in order not to get emabarassed. No one will listen to her in Marakesh. So, she found an easy way out: Go to the meeting one day late, the agenda has already been set, then catch the photo-ops and go back home.

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December 10th, 2012, 10:36 am

 
 

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