Syria WMDs: Lives and Regional Tensions at Stake if Government Uses Chemical Weapons

A statement issued from the UK’s Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on Friday said, “For the first time in the history of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which entered into force in April 1997, there are serious concerns that chemical weapons might be used.” 

There is a prevelant and continued growing anxiety over the alleged potential use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. There is fear over the enormous risk posed to countless civilian lives, and the possibility of a major escalation in regional tension. 

The country has not acknowledged its supply of chemical weapons, and the exact dimensions of the weapons are unknown. Syria has never been required to submit to to an external inspection.

In an interview, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Maqdad said, “Syria stresses again, for a tenth and a hundredth time, if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide." But after taking over a government checkpoint in the northeast, rebels found gas masks, indicating the Syrian army has been prepared, and carrying them for months.

Syria has accused Washington of exaggerating the threat of this type of weaponry. Maqdad said the U.S. might give chemical weapons to the rebels, just to use as a pretext to invade. He added that invasion from foreign entities would be seen as an act of aggression, causing the country to respond.

In July, the New York Times reported that Syria had started moving some of its stockpile of chemical weapons out of storage. Defense officials now say the country has loaded precursor elements of sarin nerve gas into bombs, but has not put the bombs onto planes or other delivery systems.

Sarin nerve gas can, without proper treatment, cause muscles to contract and twitch, eventually causing death by suffocation. Suffocation occurs because the diaphragm is a muscle.    

Syria’s neighbors fear chemical gas could spill over into their borders. Indeed, gas mask distribution centers in Israel are reporting a significant rise in the number of kits they have been giving out. There is also growing fear in Israel that anti-Zionist organizations could seize the weapons.

Syria could transfer its stockpile to Lebanon, where it could end up in the hands of Hezbollah. The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, Benny Gatz, said an Israeli strike on Syrian chemical weapons could expand into a much wider confrontation. 

NATO has already approved mobilizing patriot missiles after Turkey’s request for additional access to defend its borders. 

Syrian opposition forces are nearing Damascus. Deploying chemical weapons would be a sign of real desperation on the part of the government army. Taking the airport in Damascus would cut off the government’s access to supplies, giving the rebels more potency in this now 20-month long civil war. Hillary Clinton noted yesterday that, “Events on the ground in Syria are accelerating.” 

President Obama warned that the use of chemical weapons would push the U.S. towards intervention. U.S. officials have continued to threaten unspecified consequences should Syria try to use them.   

The last time state orchestrated chemical weapons were used was in northern Iraq, 1987-1988. Sarin and mustard gas were deployed, killing thousands of Kurds. 

How much do you trust the information in this article?

Amanda Sperber

I research media/communication, development and humanitarian crises.

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