Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chemical weapons showdown with Syria led to rare accord

In the last days of November, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss satellite imagery showing that Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pounds bombs that could be loaded on airplanes
Alarm grew in the following days, as the munitions were loaded onto vehicles near Syrian air bases. In briefings, administration officials were told that if Syria’s increasingly desperate president, Basher al-Assad, ordered the weapons to be used, they could be airborne in less than two hours — too fast for the United States to act, in all likelihood

Chemical weapons from a US stockpile, circa 2009

What followed next, officials said, was a remarkable show of international cooperation over Syria in which the United States, Arab states, Russia and China have almost never agreed on a common course of action
The combination of a public warning by President Nobama and more sharply worded private messages sent to the Syrian leader and his military commanders through Russia and others, including Irak, Turkey and possibly Jordan, stopped the chemical mixing and the bomb preparation
But concern remains that Assad could now use the weapons produced that week at any moment. The scare renewed debate about whether the West should help the Syrian opposition destroy Assad’s air force, which he would need to deliver the bombs with chemical warheads

Satellite imagery showing area where Syrian chemical weapons are believed to be stored

How the United States and Israel, along with Arab states, would respond remains a mystery. American and allied officials have talked vaguely of having developed “contingency plans” in case they decided to intervene in an effort to neutralize the chemical weapons, a task that the Pentagon estimates would require upward of 75,000 troops. But there have been no evident signs of preparations for any such effort
There is also the fear they could fall into the hands of nearby hezbollah, in Lebanaon. “Militants who got their hands on such munitions would find it difficult to deploy them effectively without the associated aircraft, artillery or rocket launcher systems,” said Jeremy Binnie, a terrorism and insurgency specialist at IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly. “That said, hezbollah would probably be able to deploy them effectively against Israel with a bit of help”
News article here.