Ex-Syrian Envoy Says Regime Prepared to Use Chemical Weapons Against Resistance

July 17, 2012 By National Journal

Syrian opposition fighters fire at targets

Syrian opposition fighters fire at targets as they train last month on the outskirts of Idlib. Syria's government is likely willing to employ chemical armaments in a bid to avert defeat by opposition forces, a one-time Syrian diplomat has warned (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra).

A former high-ranking Syrian diplomat said he strongly believes the Assad regime would use chemical weapons to stave off defeat by opposition forces, the BBC reported on Tuesday (see GSN, July 16).

Nawaf Fares, who resigned last week from his position as Syrian ambassador to Iraq, told the BBC that if the Assad regime feels it has few other options it "will not hesitate to use chemical weapons."

Fares said he based his belief on "my knowledge of the regime's mentality and the government's mentality."

When asked if he had any proof of a regime intent to mount chemical attacks, he said "if they decide to use chemical weapons they will not discuss it" (Frank Gardner, BBC I, July 17).

Similar claims on the threat posed by national unconventional weapons operations were made to justify the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. No active chemical weapons stockpile or other WMD armaments were ever found in the Arab country following the invasion.

Syria, unlike Iraq, is widely understood to possess a substantial quantity of nerve and blister agents that can be delivered by a variety of weapons. Damascus has never formally declared its chemical arsenal nor has it signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which forbids the development, possession or use of such arms.

"There is information, unconfirmed information of course, that chemical weapons have been used partially in the city of Homs," Fares told the BBC. The city in recent weeks has experienced a number of intense skirmishes between Assad loyalists and opposition fighters (BBC II, July 17).

Damascus in 1982 might have used hydrogen cyanide gas to put down an Islamist-led revolt in Hama, according to Wired magazine, which cited unconfirmed investigations into the matter.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the government had moved some of its chemical warfare materials from storage. It was not immediately clear whether the move suggested an intention to use the agents or to better protect the stockpile. Escalating fighting, which has now reached Damascus, has increased fears that weapons might be put to use or fall into terrorists' possession.

Among the possible developments in the situation are that Syria uses the weapons, leading to an armed reaction from the United States and partner nations, or that military personnel in possession of chemical weapons might switch sides and fire them at government forces, according to Wired (Kris Alexander, Wired, July 16).