Inside Syria

How real is Syria's chemical weapons threat?

We ask if the West is exaggerating Syria's chemical weapons menace to justify a future military intervention.
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2012 12:11

Syrian anti-government fighters have intensified their assault on Damascus, declaring the city's international airport a "fair target." The airport has been closed to civilian flights on-and-off for the past two weeks.

"A Syrian chemical weapons attack appears to be less likely than that of the Halabja massacre [in Iraq] as an example. Still, we have to be cautious that Syria may use chemical weapons against its population .... The deployment of Patriot missiles on the Syrian border is very provocative and will undermine stability in the region."

- Lale Kemal, a military analyst and the correspondent for Jane Defense Weekly

The airport holds logistical value for Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, but its loss would also be symbolic, bolstering the rebels' claim that al-Assad has lost control of Syria.

Meanwhile, several countries have issued warnings to Assad's government not to use chemical weapons. The warnings came after a US official said Washington had intelligence that Syria may be preparing to use poison gas.

George Sabra, the president of the Syrian National Council, issued his own warning on Friday:

Given the serious likelihood of this criminal regime using these weapons, and the devastating consequences on our people, we warn the world of the catastrophic outcome.

"We call on the UN Security Council, the world's superpowers and Arab countries to bear full responsibility for the Syrian people, who have been left alone to face death and extermination for more than 20 months."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon was asked about the threat of chemical weapons in Syria on Friday: "We have no confirmed reports on this matter. However, if it is the case, then it will be an outrageous crime in the name of humanity. I urge the international community and in particular the Security Council to stand united and act decisively to end that crisis."

But is the threat of chemical weapons real or exaggerated?

Inside Syria, with presenter Hazem Sika, discusses with guests: Lale Kemal, a military analyst and the correspondent for Jane Defense Weekly; Joel Rubin, a former US State Department official; and James Denselow, a Middle East analyst and founder of 'New Diplomacy Platform'.

"We dont know exactly what kind of intelligence the US has got .... There are two other elements to this that are particularly interesting: the first is of course it provides some political cover to the decision to deploy Patriot missiles to Turkey along with US and German operators. And secondly, the Syrian state, the regime itself, is fighting a civil war - it is shrinking in its sovereignty over the country, therefore it may be moving these weapons into zones which are more secure from capture by rebel use as they have lost airbases and significant military depots - so it could be a combination of these factors."

 James Denselow, a Middle East analyst and founder of 'New Diplomacy Platform'


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