Securing Syria’s Toxic Assets
Jul 20, 2012 -
Readers know that Syria is spiraling out of control. It is bloody, with many actors, inside and outside, playing for keeps. This much is clear: Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered.
Raising the stakes is the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons. Assad's stockpile includes mustard gas, sarin and VX, some of the most dangerous chemicals on the planet, much of it weaponized. Syria has been called a chemical weapons "superpower."
Where are the stockpiles, will they be used, what happens when the regime falls? Al-Qaeda’s interest in obtaining chemical weapons is documented. Iranian agents or Hezbollah could be in the hunt.
My subcommittee held a hearing on what to do yesterday. One witness spent 30 years in and out of State, DOD and the White House. Another is a former Army Special Forces officer and top Pentagon official who has worked in the region. We had a non-proliferation specialist too. These guys know a few things.
When considering whether the regime would use chemical weapons, one said that Assad's every decision is being made "in the context of regime survival." Another noted that the Syrian regime was not just using small arms and heavy machine guns on civilians– but heavy caliber anti-aircraft machine guns too. It is against the Geneva Conventions to use that type of weapon against military personnel, never mind civilians, so "the step from that to chemical weapons is a very small one" for a desperate Assad. If used, the "fear factor would be astronomical" among the population, creating widespread panic.
A few witness recommendations:
• Working closely with regional allies on contingency plans, intelligence sharing and military training so that they are in the lead; Turkey brings a disciplined force with a lot of manpower. Jordan’s force has the advantage of being Arab, and some capable special forces units. All the friendly countries in the neighborhood need to be utilized.
• "Maxing out" our intelligence-gathering network inside Syria;
• Making it clear to the future Syrian government that recognition and support will depend upon these weapons (and any biological assets) being controlled and destroyed;
• Being prepared to act decisively if we know of these weapons falling into hostile hands.
The witnesses stressed the great need right now for a modern day "technological equivalent to leafleting" communications effort aimed at the Syrian army and opposition – targeting those who have knowledge of, or control over, the chemical weapons -let them know they’ll be rewarded if they keep them under wraps, or punished if not.