Syria Still Has a Large Chunk of Chemical Weapons Arsenal, Experts Investigation Results Confirm its Use

By Arie Egozi

Foreign Affairs

Tel Aviv. The Head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which works with the United Nations, said on Thursday that Bashar al – Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons, banned by the international community, at least 17 times during the war in Syria.

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Fernando Arias, the organization’s executive director, said experts had investigated 77 allegations and came up with results confirming the “disturbing fact” that, despite Syria joining the organization to ban chemical weapons in 2013, it has used such weapons. Arias stressed that there are still many questions about the credibility of the Syrian regime when it comes to announcing its chemical weapons program, after “chemical weapons” were found in samples collected in large storage tanks in September 2020. He added that the organization did not receive a response from Damascus when it applied for entry visas in order to send an investigation team to Syria last month, which led to the postponement of the mission until further notice.

The Assad regime joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 on the orders of its ally, Russia, after bombing East Ghouta, near Damascus, with chemical weapons, causing hundreds of casualties, most of them children. The Assad regime announced the destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal in 2014, which is still controversial, after UN experts accused the Assad regime of carrying out three chemical attacks in 2017.

The High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakmitsu, stressed that “there is an urgent need not only to identify, but also to hold accountable anyone who has used chemical weapons in violation of international law.” Nakmitsu called for unity in the UN Security Council to re-establish activity against chemical weapons in Syria.

On the other hand, the regime’s regular representative at the UN, Bassam Sabaga, said that “finding traces of a chemical element in the test sample is not evidence of prohibited chemical activity, adding that continuing technical consultations on such issues requires avoiding prejudice or jumping to conclusions “. Sabaga noted that the regime fulfilled its obligations arising from its 2013 banning agreement, evacuated its chemical stockpile to the deck of an American ship and destroyed its production facilities on Syrian soil.

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Russia says the organization is facing pressure on the Syrian regime from Western powers, and Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nevenzia, said last week that the organization “uses information from biased sources against the Syrian government”.

What every junior intelligence officer in Israel knows has not reached the international organizations that deal with chemical weapons. While the US in 2014 praised the ” completion of the mission”, the mission has not been completed and Assad is laughing his head off in his palace. Now, all of a sudden the world begins to understand that Syria has led it by the nose.

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Syria agreed to give up its chemical arsenal in 2013 when President  Barack Obama threatened missile strikes in retaliation for a chemical attack on a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, believed to have killed more than 1,000 people. Assad’s government had denied involvement in the attack, blaming the rebels. The weapons, tons of them, were destroyed aboard the US cargo vessel MV Cape Ray in international waters. The US then declared that 96 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons and related material has been destroyed, including 100 percent of the country’s “priority weapons”.

But doubts have shadowed the Assad regimes statements. The main one is  whether Assad is hiding undeclared poison gases and there is an investigation into reports of alleged chlorine gas use in some Syrian towns. Chorine is not specifically classified as a chemical weapon. So here are the solid facts – Syria has not given up even a small portion of its chemical weapons. Assad is a master of deception and he found himself in front of a naive west that believed him.

Syria has one of the most advanced chemical warfare (CW) capabilities in the Middle East. The country’s initial CW capability was provided by Egypt prior to the October 1973 war against Israel. Since then, Syria appears to have acquired an indigenous capability to develop and produce chemical weapons agents, including mustard gas and sarin, and possibly also VX nerve agent. Chemical weapons agents have allegedly been produced since the 1980s at facilities located near the Hama, Homs, and Al-Safira villages in the Aleppo region. However, Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for some dual-use equipment, and for the precursor chemicals critical to CW agent production. In recent years, Iran has been identified as a supplier of technical assistance and facilities for developing and producing CW-related precursors. Syria possesses Scud-B and Scud-C ballistic missiles, artillery shells, and rockets that are believed to be capable of delivering chemical warheads.

 

-The writer is an International Roving Correspondent of the publication.