REUTERS – Syria acknowledged for the first time on Monday that it had chemical and biological weapons, saying they could be used if the country faced foreign intervention.
Here is a look at Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal:
- Since the early 1980s, Syria has made efforts to acquire and maintain an arsenal of chemical weapons following defeats in wars against Israel in 1967, 1973 and 1982 and the Jewish state’s widely presumed development of nuclear weapons.
- Syria has neither signed nor acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and has officially stated that while it supports a Middle East-wide ban on weapons of mass destruction (WMD), it cannot unilaterally renounce chemical arms as long as Israel continues to pose a threat to its security.
- Syria began developing its own chemical production capabilities in 1971 at the Centre D’Etudes et de Recherches Scientifiques (CERS). This facility in Damascus today administers Syria’s chemical weapons programme while also contributing directly to research and development efforts. Syria’s initial chemical weapons capability was provided by Egypt before the October 1973 war against Israel.
- According to Global Security, there are four suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria – one just north of Damascus; the second near the industrial city of Homs; the third in Hama, believed to be producing VX agents in addition to sarin and tabun; and a fourth near the Mediterranean port of Latakia.
Analysts have also identified the town of Cerin, on the coast, as a possible producer of biological weapons. Several other sites are monitored by foreign intelligence agencies and are listed only as suspect.
CHEMICAL WEAPONS ARSENAL
- Since 1973 Syria appears to have acquired the ability to develop and produce chemical weapons agents including mustard gas and sarin, and possibly also VX nerve agent.
- Exact volumes of weapons in the Syrian stockpile are not known. However, the CIA has estimated that Syria possesses several hundred litres of chemical weapons and produces hundreds of tonnes of agents annually.
METHODS OF DELIVERY
Chemical agents are designed to be fitted to an array of delivery systems:
* Several thousand aerial bombs, filled mostly with sarin, and between 50 and 100 ballistic missile warheads.
* New long-range North Korean Scud Cs, with ranges of up to 600 km and possible nerve gas warheads. May be converting some long range surface-to-air and naval cruise missiles to use chemical warheads.
* SS-21 launchers and at least 36 SS-21 missiles with 80-100 km range, plus Scud B launchers and Scud B missiles with 310 km range.
* Short range M-1B missiles and SSC-1b cruise missiles.
* Su-24 long-range strike fighters and MiG-23BM Flogger F fighter ground attack aircraft; Su-20 fighter ground attack aircraft; Su-22 fighter ground attack aircraft.
David Friedman, WMD expert at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, said:
“For weaponisation, the material is poured into warheads, which can be anything from ballistic missiles to standard artillery shells to air-dropped munitions. The weapons can be as small as mortar bombs. Some of Syria’s chemical weapons are already in launch-ready, warhead form.”
METHODS OF STORAGE
According to Friedman, Syria’s chemical material is almost always in liquid form, rather than gaseous. It is stored in vats, and usually in sealed bunkers in military bases, although there are accounts of Syria also having natural storage sites such as caves. He said some of the chemicals are compounds whose elements are kept separate for safety’s sake.
SAFE DESTRUCTION OF WEAPONS
Friedman said a successful aerial bombing could burn up the chemicals with negligible environment damage.
CHANCES OF SPIES SPOTTING WEAPON TRANSPORTS
Friedman said chemical vats have some distinctive characteristics such as being constructed of especially strong, non-corrosive steel, and mounted valves. “But this is not just a matter of spotting the vats,” he said. “In the case of Syria, there has been long-term monitoring, with the result that certain bases have been identified as likely storage sites. So these would be the focus of surveillance for any movement of chemical weapons and delivery systems.”
Sources: Reuters/www.nti.org – Nuclear Threat Initiative/here – Global Security (Reporting by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit, and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Mark Heinrich)