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
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'
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.