On 25 April 2013, during a trip to the United Arab Emirates, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the US intelligence community believed the Syrian government had used sarin gas on a small scale against rebels trying to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Also on 25 April 2013, the White House delivered a letter to 2 members of Congress on the topic of chemical weapons use in Syria, saying that US intelligence had confirmed the information "to some degree of varying confidence."
On 22 December 2012 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Syrian chemical weapons are under the control of the Syrian government, which has consolidated them in one or two locations. “As of right now… the [Syrian] government is doing all it can to safeguard those weapons,” he said, adding that “we are following all leads concerning chemical weapons.” However, there is a potential danger those weapons could be seized by militants, he admitted.
On 12 July 2012 news reports indicated that some Syrian chemical weapons were being moved from their storage areas. Some US officials were concered that the weapons might be used against rebels or civilians, or the weapons were possibly being hidden from the opposition or Western powers. On 13 July 2012 Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters there were no indications that Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles have become less secure. “Our assessment remains what it’s been for some time. The Syrian regime has control of its chemical weapons stockpiles,” Little said at the Pentagon.
“We believe that the Syrian government has a very serious responsibility to protect its stockpiles of chemical weapons,” he added. “We would, of course, caution them strongly against any intention to use those weapons. That would cross a serious red line.” If any Syrian officials choose to utilize chemical weapons they will be held accountable for their actions, he said. “We have a Syrian regime that continues to perpetrate multiple attacks against the civilian population every day ... If they were to take further steps, it would be an even graver situation,” Little said.
Syria may only use chemical weapons against external aggression, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said on 23 July 2012. "Syria may use chemical weapons only in case of foreign aggression," according to a Foreign Ministry statement read by Makdissi during a press conference in the Syrian capital Damascus. Syria will never use chemical weapons against civilians, he added, stressing that the weapon stocks are secure.
U.S. President Barack Obama warned the Syrian authorities that they would be held accountable if they decide to use their arsenal of chemical weapons. "Given the regime's stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make it clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons," Obama said on 24 July 2012.
The Syrian authorities have assured Moscow that there will be no use of chemical weapons against rebel forces, Russia’s foreign minister said on 06 November 2012. “I rule out the use by the [Syrian] regime of chemical weapons,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists. “We have received the appropriate assurances.” Lavrov said Russia had also asked Syria to make a similar pledge to Western powers.
Syria, not a signatory to either the CWC or the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), and not having ratified the BWC, began developing chemical weapons in 1973 prior to the Yom Kipper war when the Egyptian government reportedly gave Syria artillery shells capable of delivering chemical weapons. Since then Syria has developed a robust chemical weapons program, perhaps one of the most advanced in the Middle East, and a variety of delivery methods. The country is still very depending on outside assistance in procuring important precursor chemicals and equipment.
Apparently, during the early 80's, a policy decision within the Syrian government, led to the rapid development of non-conventional weapons. It is likely this decision was the result of the realization that Syria could not reach conventional military parity with Israel.
Syria is not able to internally produce many of the necessary precursors to create chemical weapons and is dependent upon importing production equipment. The CIA reports in nearly every declassified acquisition report to the US Congress over the last five years the efforts of Syria to obtain precursor chemicals and equipment from external sources. The chemicals were stockpiled prior to international export controls but those initials supplies have likely long been exhausted. Syria's principle suppliers of CBW production technology were reported to be large chemical brokerage houses in Holland, Switzerland, France, Austria and Germany.
In 2001 the CIA reported that:
- Syria sought CW-related precursors and expertise from foreign sources during the reporting period. Damascus already has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin, and it would appear that Syria is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its CW program, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment. It is highly probable that Syria also is developing an offensive BW capability.
In early 2002 Syria sought chemical weapons-related precursors from various countries. Damascus already held a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin, but apparently was trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. Syria remained dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its CW program, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment.
Syria is a major regional producer of phosphates that could conceivably be used for WMD. The country produces 2 million tons of phosphate per year and has an estimated reserve of around 2 billion tons. In October 2002 it was announced that a major "super" phosphate plant was to be constructed near Palmyra with a partnership between Russia and the state-owned General Company for Phosphate and Mines. A similar project is underway with the Indian firm, Dharmasi Morarji Chimicals Ltd.
The US has hoped that the 33-member Australia group would help in restricting imports to Syria and other similar states by coordinating the adoption of stricter export controls.
Syria has used the expansion of its pharmaceuticals industry as a cover for purchases relating to its chemical weapons program. Since 1988, protected from competing imports and without patent protection, the Syrian pharmaceutical industry has expanded rapidly and provides about 85% of the country's needs for products. The volume of the domestic market is expected to grow at a rate of 5-7% per annum, and there is the possibility to expand domestic production to meet the additional 15% of demand being met by imports. The state organization "Saydalaya" has a monopoly on the importation of drugs not produced in Syria and controls arrangements for technical appraisal and price negotiation. Syrian companies, however, may apply for a license to manufacture a drug that is being imported, and if permission is granted, imports of the drug end after six months. There is no active material production in Syria, and all active materials are imported from a wide range of overseas sources (Germany, Switzerland, Russia, Spain, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, USA, Slovakia and Oman, by order of value). Exports are confined to finished products and go to countries of the Middle East and North Africa. The vast size of these markets and the relative ease with which many pharmaceutical chemicals can be manufactured suggest a broad avenue of potential for development. Foreign companies may also outsource secondary production to Syrian companies with high quality production facilities, and some manufacturers have licenses from overseas companies to produce their medicines and market them under the brand name.
Syria is now believed capable of producing several hundred tons of CW agents per year. Syrian production factiliites are notoriously small in comparison to other CBW facilities in other states and are difficult to conclusively identify. Presently there are four suspected sites. One located just north of Damascus, and the second near the industrial city of Homs. The third, in Hama, is believed to be producing VX agents in addition to sarin and tabun, and a forth near Cerin. Several other sites are monitored by intelligence agencies and are listed only as suspect.
The CIA has reported continued effort by Syria to develop solid rocket motor technology, likely to be used in Scud C type missiles. These missiles could be used to deliver chemical weapons, and Syria is believed to have these systems deployed. Since 1985 they have begun to manufacture chemical warheads for their ballistic missiles. Cruise missiles may also be equipped with chemical warheads.
In addition, Syria has persistently acquired small amounts of conventional weapons from Russia, the FSU, China, Iran, and possibly North Korea. In recent years Syria has attempted to acquireg Russian SA-10 and SA-11 air defense systems, MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters, and T-80 or T-90 main battle tanks, as well as upgrades for the aircraft, armored weapons, and air defense systems already in its inventory.
Possible Delivery Systems
- Four SSM brigades: 1 with FROG, 1 with Scud Bs, 1 with Scud Cs, and 1 with SS-21s.
- "several thousand aerial bombs, filled mostly with sarin," and between 50 to 100 ballistic missile warheads.
- New long range North Korean Scud Cs, with ranges of up to 600 kilometers and possible nerve gas warheads.
- May be converting some long range surface-to-air and naval cruise missiles to use chemical warheads.
- SS-21 launchers and at least 36 SS-21 missiles with 80-100 kilometers range.
- Scud B launchers and Scud B missiles with 310 kilometers range.
- Short range M-1B missiles
- SS-N-3, and SSC-1b cruise missiles.
- Su-24 long range strike fighters.
- MiG-23BM Flogger F fighter ground attack aircraft.
- Su-20 fighter ground attack aircraft.
- Su-22 fighter ground attack aircraft.
- Multiple rocket launchers and tube artillery.
In April 2003 US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld stated that the US had evidence to suggest that Syria had been conducting chemical weapons tests over the prior 12 to 15 months. Specifically in November 1999 it was reported by the Washington Times that Syria had conducted a live chemical weapons bombing test using a MiG-23 jet that dropped a chemical weapons-laden bomb on a practice range in Syria. The bombing was detected by US spy satellites due to the distinct coloration on the impact area. The precise type of chemical used was never disclosed.
Syria is significantly dependent upon outside assistance for all of its WMD programs. There have been reports over the life of the Syria program that Syria has obtained significant assistance from various states, significantly Russia and France.
Russian General Anatoly Kuntsevich was suspected of smuggling VX precursors to nerve gas for research purposes. The materials shipped to Syria were intended for the production of the Soviet/Russian version of the VX nerve agent - code-named Substance 33 or V-gas. Such a deal might have been made in the early '90s or late '80s during a visit to Syria by the then-commander of the Russian Chemical Corps, General Pikalov.
French support came in the form of pharmaceutical imports. In the early eighties, French companies provided an significant portion of pharmaceuticals imported by Syria. By the middle of the decade France provided nearly 1 quarter of pharmaceuticals coming into Syria. Certainly some of the imports were legitimate, but many were "dual use" items that could be directed to clandestine programs. In 1992 following French acceptance of the Australia Group, all exports became to be monitored for chemicals and equipment that could be directed to chemical and biological weapons programs.
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