Assad will not hand over the last of his WMDs

The next few weeks and months could be decisive in destroying what remains of Syria's weapons of mass destruction

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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The next few weeks and months could be decisive in destroying what remains of Syria's weapons of mass destruction. A quarter of the arsenal still remains with Assad and his regime wants to keep enough of that to threaten the world. On Tuesday, Syria’s state-run news agency reported an attempt to kidnap and murder international observers dispatched to oversee the removal of chemical arms. This might be an indication that the Syrian government is preparing to obstruct whatever is left of these observers’ mission.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s warehouses contain a lot of fatal chemical and biological weapons. There’s mustard gas from the remains of the world war, newly-manufactured gases like Sarin and the Botulinum toxin, a few drops of which are enough to poison an entire city. The regime also possesses biological weapons like Anthrax, developed bacteria that can cause epidemics from plague to cholera and viruses like Ebola.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s warehouses contain a lot of fatal chemical and biological weapons

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Last year, no one took the Syrian regime’s threat seriously when it first struck al-Ghouta in Damascus’ countryside using Sarin gas. The attack suffocated 1,500 people, mostly women and children.

Tough and dangerous mission

Since last October, international observers have been orchestrating the tough and dangerous mission of transferring whatever chemical weapons they come across outside the country. Observers think they have transferred most of Assad’s chemical arsenal - an arsenal no one knew existed before recent times. However, the small amount left isn’t really small per se - it’s enough to massacre hundreds of thousands of people. Furthermore, we are just talking about the stockpiles that have been discovered. The regime is certainly hiding other weapons in strategic stockpiles which can be used to impose a sweeping victory.

It may use these weapons and then accuse al-Qaeda or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or any other similar party it dragged into the war, of using them.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel bragged on Tuesday that the U.S. hasn’t lost its influence and importance. How so? He said the Syrian regime submissively approved to handing over its weapons of mass destruction out of fear of American threats. It’s true that the Syrian regime fears American power but it does not necessarily think this power will be used.

Proof to that is that it struck a deal but has been slow in implementing the agreement since it was signed last September. Perhaps Hagel doesn’t know that the Syrian regime exploited the chemical weapons’ crime in Ghouta to prolong its rule and buy more time to attain more manpower and weapons from its allies. The regime has also continued to use chlorine and mustard gas - even if in small amounts - ever since it made the deal to hand over its chemical weapons. Most importantly, it managed to use the chemical truce to strengthen its other destructive methods and it shifted from wallowing in defeat in certain areas to emerging victorious on some fronts, including in Ghouta and Homs. Doesn’t Hagel see that the Assad regime has benefited from chemical weapons as its rule has been prolonged and it is guaranteed protection from international backlash? Now we can all see that Assad’s regime will not hand over the last of its biological and chemical weapons without a large-scale war!

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 28, 2014.


Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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