The farce over red lines & Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile

Tony Duheaume

Published: Updated:

Over the years, intelligence has shown that with the assistance of the North Koreans, the Syrian regime has been able to successfully install chemical warheads containing sarin into its arsenal of Scud missiles, and that it also had VX and other lethal biological weapons in its armory.

Then on August 21, 2013, Assad’s use of such weapons was demonstrated, when his troops used rockets containing the chemical agent sarin against Ghouta, a suburban area of Damascus. When the missiles exploded in a heavily built up area, hundreds of Syrian civilians died, all in a most horrific way, and it was at this point the world seemed to wake up to the atrocities being carried out by the Assad regime.

In response to world condemnation of the attack, the US and France headed a coalition of countries that were preparing to carry out airstrikes on Syria, in retaliation for the attack on Ghouta. And for a short while, it seemed that Assad might be about to pay the penalty for his crimes.

Then on September 9, 2013, with the coalition preparing to strike, US Secretary of State John Kerry while giving a press conference in London, alongside Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague, let loose what appeared to be an off-the-cuff flippant remark. He suggested that if President Bashar al-Assad was willing to give up his entire chemical weapons stock in the next week, handing them over to the international community, he could avoid a military strike on his country.

Then, to the complete surprise of Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov quickly called his bluff, and announced that Russia would encourage the Syrian President to turn over his entire stock of chemical weapons to international control, for a guarantee from the US administration that it would not bomb Syria.

The deal's support

Following this declaration, it was soon announced that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomed such a deal. And with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon adding his support to the proposal, Kerry had little choice but to hammer out an agreement. The deal allowed for Syria’s chemical weapons to be moved to a secure place to be destroyed, all under the watchful eye of UN observers.

Although Syria had dragged its feet over the handover of these weapons, it was finally announced in June 2014 that the Assad regime had at last finished surrendering its stockpile of hundreds of tons of chemical warfare agents, and that the disarmament operation was complete.

But during the destruction of these stockpiles, President Obama had issued a red line of warning, threatening military action should Assad not go forward with the full destruction of the WMDs, or should he carry out such an attack again. As part of that deal, American retaliation was still on the table, just to insure that Assad would not cross that line, and if he did so, American bombers would move in.

But there was a fatal flaw in the handover process, as although Syria’s stockpile of chemical agents had so-called been removed, suspicions remained that the Syrian military had not declared a large quantity of its stockpile to UN inspectors. And there was also the case of 12 former chemical weapons facilities having been left intact, under a compromise deal that was devised in July 2014.

Under this proposal, seven of these facilities would eventually be demolished, while the other five, all of which were said to be underground facilities, would be dismantled by the Syrian state at a later date, after further negotiations had taken place. Then at the point of their destruction, some means of verifying the demolition of these facilities would be put in place by the UN, which would be brought into effect at the time the destruction was announced.

But since that time, Assad has used chemical weapons on several occasions, blatantly crossing that red line set by the Obama administration, and got away with it on each occasion. With the US showing it had no appetite whatsoever to punish Assad, it had emboldened him to go on to commit ever more despicable crimes against humanity, like the recent attack on a rebel held town in Syria’s Idlib Province on Tuesday, April 4, 2017, in which scores of civilians died including children.

The Idlib attack

As far as the 2017 attack on Idlib is concerned, the victims being treated were very pale, sweating, their pupils narrowed, and they were struggling to breathe, all of which are the classic signs of sarin poisoning. In the Western press, photographs of children in a state of shock are in abundance, many shown with respirator masks on their faces. But as far as showing the rows of corpses, lined along the rubble-strewn streets, or images of victims presenting the most severe symptoms being treated in hospital, many of them children, most have not been shown or have been blanked out, as the reportage has been carefully sanitized for fear of offending the Western readership.

So with this recent attack on Idlib Province having been carried out with weapons grade sarin, it proves that Syria is still in possession of chemical weapons. The question remains just how much of its military arsenal still contains biological compounds such as mustard gas, botulinum toxin, anthrax, and ricin, which were known to be in Syria’s possession at the time of the deal to erase them, and how many could still be brought into use in a war situation.

So when you consider that these weapons are in the hands of a very unstable dictator, who the West allows to carry out horrendous crimes against his people with no fear of reprisal. With this latest attack killing dozens of innocent civilians, and the fact that both the Russian and Iranian governments are standing by him, no matter what atrocity he carries out, how much further is Assad likely to go?

But what makes this whole situation even scarier, is the ease in which Assad’s troops are able to use these sick weapons against their own people, while the whole world looks on, and does nothing except throw the odd verbal condemnation. On top of this, with Assad knowing to back several terror groups; including Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, in the same way as Iran does, it would not be inconceivable for these weapons to eventually fall into their hands, as an ultimate act of revenge against his enemies.

Right now this attack has proved that Assad still has such insidious WMDs in his possession, and not only is he bold enough to use them, whatever the condemnation thrown at him by the world at large, he probably has these weapons in abundance, and will be willing to use them again and again.

The deal for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons came from a weak position on the part of Assad, plus a massive guff on the part of John Kerry, and a crafty move by the Russian’s to save their monstrous friend. But once Assad was back on his feet again, propped up by his similarly inhuman backers in the form of Russia and Syria, who are now on the ground in Syria fighting alongside him, his former arrogant style of leadership has fast returned. So in the same way that Assad had reneged on the use of chemical weapons, he would no doubt be setting up the factories to produce them again, in order to top up his diminishing supply, and so now is the time for Donald Trump to step up to the plate to prove his mettle.