Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012
Tuesday,24 October, 2017
Issue 1126, 13 - 19 December 2012

Ahram Weekly

The chemical option

Rumour about Syria’s Al-Assad using chemical weapons in the near future is growing, though some think it is just a bargaining gambit, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

The regime of Bashar Al-Assad is perhaps going for broke. According to recent intelligence reports, the Syrian army has been accessing its chemical weapons depots in western Latakia, Palmyra and Homs.

These reports have raised alarm in various countries inside and outside the region. Teetering on the verge of collapse, the Syrian regime seems to be willing to use chemical weapons against the opposition in a last ditch attempt to stay in power.

But Syrian observers find it hard to believe that the regime would actually use chemical weapons. The regime is desperate to have the international community approve a safe haven for the Alawite community in coastal areas, and is using the threat of chemical weapons as a bargaining chip, some say.

So far, Syrian officials have denied any intention to use chemical weapons in the current conflict. But neighbouring countries, including Turkey and Jordan, are not taking chances. Jordan and Turkey are already in touch with NATO officials to see what can be done if the threat turns into an ugly reality.

The New York Times recently reported that the Syrian regime might be contemplating the use of chemical weapons in a bid to defeat the opposition.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said that use of such weapons by the Syrian regime would definitely lead to international intervention.

According to Israeli intelligence sources, US and Jordanian troops have spent the last two months training on how to react to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrians.

The US military has deployed over 25,000 marines in the region as a precaution against such a move on the part of the Syrian regime. And the aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower, carrying eight squadrons of fighter planes and 8,000 troops, has already taken position off the Syrian coast.

The German government is also getting ready to deploy Patriot missiles in Turkey. Once the Bundestag approves the measure, up to 400 German soldiers will be deployed in Turkey to man the missiles.

Ahmed Riyad Ghannam of the Syrian opposition believes that Al-Assad is desperate enough to use chemical weapons. “The use of chemical weapons is a possibility. The regime may use such weapons in a limited manner in order to prove to foreign powers that it is willing to go to such lengths,” Ghannam remarks.

Despite the current precautions taken in neighbouring countries, foreign troops may find it hard to venture into the heart of Syria at present. And a pre-emptive strike against Syria is also difficult, considering that the stockpiles of chemical weapons are dispersed throughout the country.

Ghannam believes that the Syrian regime is using the threat of chemical weapons in order to force UN-sponsored intervention that would allow it to step down in relative safety.

“International parties are trying to negotiate a political deal that would preserve the remainder of state institutions in Syria,” Ghannam says.

Russia, which is still opposed to this effort, may eventually agree to an arrangement allowing an Alawite pocket to survive in the coastal part of the country.

But time is running out for Al-Assad’s regime, because of the recent successes of the Free Syrian Army, which is now in control of most of the passageways on the Turkish borders. The Free Syrian Army is said to be fully coordinating with the Turkish command and international intelligence services. 

Turkish analyst Nuran Milli has been following closely the military situation on the Turkish-Syrian borders. She says that Turkey is taking every possible precaution to repel attacks by Al-Asaad’s regime.

“Turkey is acting in coordination with the international community, and it will react in case Al-Assad used internationally banned weapons against his people or instigated attacks on Turkey by Kurdish fighters,” Milli says.

Turkish analyst Abdallah Odijan says that Turkey has to take every possible precaution. “You cannot be a passive observer when there is a war going on next door, with a regime that is taking a lot of chances and may act in an unpredictable way.”

“Turkey wants to take precautions. But it will not move troops into Syria unless NATO decides to intervene. For now, Turkey wishes to stay out of the Syrian morass,” Odijan says.

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