The Chemical Weapons That Assad Tries To Hide and Israel’s Red Line

Despite the statements by the United Nations that 95% of Syria’s chemical weapons had been destroyed, Bashar Assad continued to produce them. Israel wasn’t asleep at the wheel: A “hidden hand” revealed this to the world and when this did not help, an attack against a chemical facility was attributed to Israel in 2018. The report yesterday about two other attacks is a message not only to Damascus, but also to Tehran: Israel is enforcing the red lines.

The two Israeli attacks against two of the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities in Syria reported yesterday in The Washington Post did not occur in a vacuum. A previous attack was attributed to Israel in 2018, and the message of these attacks is that the Israeli Defense Forces and Israel will never stop enforcing the red line they have drawn — preventing the development of nonconventional weapons in Syria.

This threat apparently was supposed to have ended. In July 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons issued a secret report to the U.N. Security Council, saying that the removal and destruction of 1,300 tons of chemical weapons that were in Syrian military warehouses had been completed. At that time, the organization concluded that its personnel had successfully located and destroyed at least 95% of the chemical warfare materials used by the Assad regime and its personnel to kill thousands of Syrian civilians in regions rebelling against the regime.

The butcher of Damascus principally employed deadly sarin nerve gas starting in 2012 and continued without respite until August 2013, when then-President Barack Obama threatened to attack Syria and even began organizing a coalition to do this. Obama blinked and did not attack, but Russian President Vladimir Putin identified an opportunity to gain prestige on the world stage and convinced Bashar Assad to dismantle his chemical weapons. As was said, in June 2014 almost no chemical weapons remained in Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces thought that Assad perhaps had warehouses with small quantities of chemical warfare material here and there, but the security and intelligence establishment believed that Assad no longer had the ability to threaten Israel with chemical weapons. Therefore, the Israeli government decided to stop distributing gas masks to civilians and even decreased the production of those masks, and almost completely halted IDF training against chemical weapons.

However, the facts on the ground did not justify the optimism. Almost three months after the U.N. Security Council announced that the dismantling of chemical weapons in Syria had been completed, it became clear that the Assad regime still had significant stockpiles of chemical weapons that had not been declared. These facts raised concerns in Israel, and it became clear that, while Assad had stopped using sarin nerve gas against his citizens, he continued to use highly concentrated chlorine gas, which did not cause many deaths, but caused injuries and severe sickness. Assad used chemical warfare primarily against Sunni rebels, al-Qaida and Islamic State group members, and jihadi organizations concentrated in the Idlib Governorate in northern Syria, south of the city of Aleppo.

Chemical attacks continued in 2016 and 2017 and, in some cases, the Assad regime again used sarin gas. This action led former U.S. President Donald Trump to order an attack on Syria as punishment against the Assad regime. In Israel they saw the reports and independently began to prepare to strike at the Assad regime’s ability to wage chemical warfare in the context of their ongoing conflict.

However, prior to this, a “hidden hand” was bringing news to the international community and U.N. that Syria was continuing not only to use chemical weapons, but also to produce them, and that it was importing materials from many counties, including European countries such as Belgium, Germany, Holland and Switzerland. The Syrian military industrial concern, the Scientific Studies and Research Center, known as CERS, which was developing and producing missiles and aerial munitions, was also the producer of chemical and biological weapons in Syria.

An article published last year in the French newspaper Le Monde revealed a secret report by two nongovernmental organizations: the Syrian Archive and OSH, which detailed how the Syrians secretly produce chemical weapons from materials they import from overseas. It also claimed that the Israeli air force in April 2018 attacked “Institute 4000” of CERS in the area of Hama, where they were developing and producing chemical weapons. According to these organizations, the attack did not succeed and only administrative buildings for the factories and laboratories were damaged. However, it is clear that Israel was not complacent and is determined to do everything it can to ensure that Syria does not obtain chemical weapons.

Chemical warfare materials are defined as weapons of mass destruction, and Israel has declared a number of times that it will use force, if necessary, to prevent the Assad regime from transferring these types of weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon or for use by Syria against Israel.

Based on the report in Le Monde, we can understand that the attacks reported yesterday in The Washington Post from last June against three chemical weapons facilities in the Damascus and Homs area, and in March of last year against a villa near Homs, a target previously revealed in Ynet and Yedi’ot Aharonot, were not the first of their kind, but rather “designated improvements” to the attack in 2018 in the area of the city of Masyaf in central Hama. In the last attack, in which casualties were reported, a large nerve gas stockpile apparently was completely destroyed, in addition to chlorine gas, as well as base materials for producing these types of gases for filling aerial bombs.

It is clear enough that this attack six months ago was one of the significant steps taken secretly by Israel in order to prevent the Assad regime from producing weapons of mass destruction. The events reported yesterday in The Washington Post apparently were intended to signal to Assad and also to the Iranians that while nuclear talks are continuing in Vienna, Israel still is determined not to allow a situation where it can be attacked with weapons of mass destruction, whether chemical or biological, such as those Syria has developed and produced at Institute 4000 of CERS, nor with nuclear weapons, which Syria tried in the past to develop and produce, and Iran still continues to develop and produce.

About this publication

About Charles Railey 61 Articles
I recently retired from the federal government, having worked for many years on Middle East issues and regional media. My fascination with the region has never changed and this is one reason why the work of Watching America caught my eye. I live in the DC area with my wife, two grown children, and three cats.

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