The Syrian opposition has claimed it can counter the government’s chemical arsenal by assembling its own stocks of chemical weapons — an assertion that threatens to further destabilise the region and spur greater internationalisation of the conflict in the Levantine state.
Bassam al-Dada, a political adviser in the anti-government Free Syrian Army (FSA) has told Turkey’s state-run Anatolia news agency that the opposition has the raw materials and know-how to produce chemical weapons.
He warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to threaten the opposition with chemical weapons as “we also possess them”.
Mr. Dada said the opposition would use chemical weapons only in response to chemical attack by the government — a pronouncement that amounts to the opposition’s declaration of a no-first use doctrine on chemical weapons. “If we ever use them [chemical weapons], we will only hit the regime’s bases and centres,” said Mr. Dada.
Analysts say it is in the opposition’s interest to keep chemical arms in international focus, for any talk of using these mass-destruction weapons is bound to encourage direct foreign intervention in the Syrian conflict. The Obama administration has already warned that the use of chemical weapons is a red line that the Syrian government must not breach. U.S. concerns about Syria’s chemical arsenal falling into the hands of jihadists could be another trigger for western intervention to gain control of the weapons.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition is investing considerable psychological capital in its assertions that the Syrian government may not be in firm control of its chemical weapons stocks. Adnan Silu, a former Major General who had defected to the opposition had told the Al Arabiya television network in June 2012 that “probably anyone from the Free Syrian Army or any Islamic extremist group could take them [Syrian chemical weapons] over”. He had claimed that Syrian forces had not properly secured stocks of mustard gas and nerve agents in conflict-prone zones such as Homs and areas east of Damascus and Aleppo.
The threat of a Syrian chemical weapon attack has been used by Turkey to substantiate its case for the deployment of Patriot anti-missile defences — a move that threatens to destabilise the region.
With NATO acceding to the Turkish “request” for Patriot missiles, Iran has been drawn deeper into the Syrian conflict. “Each one of these Patriots is a black mark on the world map, and is meant to cause a world war. They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself,” warned Iran’s armed forces chief General Hassan Firouzabadi in a mid-December comment. Observers say the Patriot batteries, on mobile platforms, can always be shifted from the Syrian border to face the Iranian city of Tabriz.
The deployment of Patriot missiles also seems to have sown the seeds of an arms race in West Asia between Russia and NATO. In response to the Patriot missiles, Moscow has apparently transferred the state-of-the-art Iskander missiles to Syria. Travelling at six to seven times the speed of sound, Iskander missiles are expected to nullify the Patriot missile defence shield.
Alert to the negative fallout of the use of chemical weapons, Syria has sounded the alarm on a possible false-flag attack with chemical weapons by the opposition. Bashar Jaafari, Syria’s representative to the United Nations, warned in December that Syrian opposition might use chemical weapons against innocent civilians and pin the blame on Mr. Assad’s government, because they had established control over “a toxic chlorine factory” east of Aleppo.