There’s a precedent for Assad using chemical weapons: His father did it.

August 30, 2011
א מַשָּׂא, דַּמָּשֶׂק: הִנֵּה דַמֶּשֶׂק מוּסָר מֵעִיר, וְהָיְתָה מְעִי מַפָּלָה. 1 The burden of Damascus. Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap.
Isaiah Chapter 17 יְשַׁעְיָהוּ

Many countries, including the United States and Russia, gradually eliminated their chemical-weapons arsenals, but Syria refused to sign the U.N. Chemical Weapons convention and proceeded to develop an ever larger and deadlier stockpile. The CIA has concluded that Syria possesses a large stockpile of sarin-based warheads and was working on developing VX, a deadlier nerve agent that resists breaking down in the environment.
By early in the last decade, some weapons experts ranked Syria’s chemical stockpile as probably the largest in the world, consisting of tens of tons of highly lethal chemical agents and hundreds of Scud missiles as well as lesser rockets, artillery rockets and bomblets for delivering the poisons. Leonard Spector lays down some other scenarios in which Assad’s chemical weapons could be used. Let’s start with the possibility of civil war. According to researchers at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, open sources indicate that there are at least four, and potentially five, chemical weapons production facilities in Syria. One or two are located near Damascus, the other three situated in Hama, Latakia, and al-Safir village, near the city of Aleppo. Hama is one of the hotbeds of the Syrian revolt, which Assad’s tanks attacked in early August and where, more recently, fighting has severely damaged the city’s hospitals. Latakia is another center of unrest; it was shelled by the Syrian Navy in mid-August. Aleppo, Syria’s second-largest city, has also seen significant demonstrations.

If anti-Assad insurgents take up arms, the chemical sites, as symbols of the regime’s authority, could become strategic targets. And, if mass defections occur from the Syrian army, there may be no one left to defend the sites against seizure. This could lead to disastrous outcomes, including confiscation of the chemical weapons by a radical new national government or sale of the weapons as war booty to organized nonstate actors or criminal groups.

In such chaos, no one can predict who might control the weapons or where they might be taken. With these chemical weapons in the hands of those engaged in a possible civil war, the risks that they would be used would increase substantially. The problem would be worsened further if some possessors were not fully aware of the extent of the weapons’ deadly effects.

And let’s imagine that Assad is eventually removed: What leaders would gain control of these weapons after he departed? Saudi-backed Sunni groups? Iranian-backed Shiite organizations? Whoever they might be, it is unclear that the newcomers would follow the Assads’ cautious-use doctrine and refusal to share chemical weapons with nonstate groups, or that the new leaders would be able to maintain strict security measures at the chemical sites.

Meanwhile, it’s possible that an existential threat will cause the Assad regime to abandon its previous policy of restraint regarding chemical weapons. It is not a huge leap from attacking civilians with tank fire, machine guns, and naval artillery to deploying poison gas, and the shock effect and sense of dread engendered by even limited use could quash a citywide uprising within an hour. h/t Carl


The Syrian Revolution 2011: First Protest Shooting in Damascus

April 5, 2011
Syrians living in Jordan shout slogans as they protest in solidarity
with anti-government protesters in Syria,
outside the Syrian embassy in Amman April 2, 2011.
(REUTERS/Majed Jaber)
The Syrian Revolution 2011: First Protest Shooting in Damascus
A DEBKAfile Exclusive Report:

The Syrian uprising took a new turn Tuesday, April 5, when armed protesters opened fire for the first time on security forces from a well-laid ambush in a Damascus suburb. Two policemen were killed according to first reports. The fact that armed elements have taken over and are willing to use violence against Assad regime — and in the capital yet — marks a new and dangerous stage in the two-week long protest.
Syria’s banned opposition groups and Muslim Brotherhood, under the combined new banner of “The Syrian Revolution 2011,” earlier announed a fresh round of demonstrations against President Bashar Assad starting Tuesday, April 5, and lasting until next week, debkafile’s Middle East sources report.
Both sides of the conflict realize that the Assad regime is not yet at the tipping-point for its survival after street protest rallies and bloody crackdowns centering on Daraa in the south and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast, in which 110 demonstrators died. However, a mass, nationwide uprising could badly shake its stability because it would seriously overtax Assad’s loyal military and security troops.
The opposition and the regime are meanwhile playing cat and mouse to see which holds the balance. The protest movement has already made an important gain: Even if Assad weathers the storm, his regime will never recover its old stability, arrogance and confidence. After 11 years in power, the Syrian president’s authority will be on the wane.
To knock it over completely, the Sunnis, who are 76 percent of the Syria’s population of 26 million, must join the protest movement en masse. This they have so far avoided doing for fear of the bullets which Assad’s loyalist forces do not hesitate to shoot.
Because it is hard to get ordinary Sunni Muslims out on the streets, the heads of Syrian Revolution 2011 have instigated a campaign of passive resistance. This week, for example, opposition leaders told the population to stop paying their electricity bills, an act of protest that has caught on in Syria’s big cities. The Assad regime is therefore confronted both by the “Days of Rage” and quiet civil resistance.
Furthermore, the important port-town of Latakia has split down the middle between two opposing camps — the 300,000 members of the ruling Allawite sect fear to venture into the districts populated by the town’s 400,000 Sunnis — and vice versa. Army control is reduced to keeping open the road linking the Syria’s main import and export port facilities to the highway out of the city.
In the next 48 hours, the opposition is hoping to whip up mass demonstrations in Aleppo and Damascus, the capital. Aleppo, a city of 2.8 million inhabitants is the political and economic hub of the Syrian Sunni community. Therefore, major outbreaks there would produce a big crack in Assad’s authority.
The Syrian ruler has tried to pre-empt the Aleppo demonstration by pouring substantial armed strength into the city, cutting its Internet links and arresting thousands of people suspected of opposition ties.
But he faces a huge problem. He can’t trust the Sunni rank and file to obey orders to suppress a large-scale Sunni insurrection in Aleppo — only the Allawite units which owe loyalty to the president and the Assad clan. He must therefore rely on the support of the 4th Army Division and the security and intelligence services and they may be too thin on the ground to shoulder the task. He dare not try and loose Sunni troops on the protesters of Aleppo for fear they join the protesters.