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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Chemical Weapons

According to a French intelligence report released 03 September 2013, the Syrian stockpile included:

  • Several hundreds of tons of sulfur mustard, stockpiled in its final form,
  • Several tens of tons of VX. VX was the most toxic among the known chemical warfare agents,
  • Several hundreds of tons of sarin, representing the bulk of the arsenal.

According to on 2013 report, Syria had chemical weapons stored at an estimated 40 locations across the country.

Syria was believed capable of producing several hundred tons of CW agents per year. Syrian production facilities 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, was 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.


Syria was not able to internally produce many of the necessary precursors to create chemical weapons and was 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 was 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 was highly probable that Syria also was 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 was 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 was 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 was expected to grow at a rate of 5-7% per annum, and there was 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 was being imported, and if permission was granted, imports of the drug end after six months. There was 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.


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 was 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 acquire 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.

Outside Assistance

Syria was 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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