Thursday, December 08, 2011

8-Dec-11: Syria: Terrible situation. Can't get worse... can it?

Syria's president in the company of another
regional despot, now no longer in office. [Note: this
photo is taken from the self-adulatory website
of Assad himself - here]
The website of The Atlantic carries an analysis entitled "U.S. Closely Monitoring Syria's Chemical Weapons Stockpile" by Rachel Oswald.

Sub-titled "Some officials fear Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could use the weapons against protesters. What happens if he does?", the article opens by arguing that what's happening in Syria is causing dyspepsia in Washington:
The United States is quietly but closely monitoring the status of Syria's large chemical-weapons stockpile amid fears that the regime of autocratic ruler Bashar al-Assad could use the warfare agents to quell continued political protests or divert the materials to extremist groups that operate in the region... The United States is believed to have prepared contingency plans for dealing with Syria's toxic arsenal should it appear that the regime is about to use the weapons or pass them to affiliated extremist organizations such as Hezbollah. Syria is not a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention. It has also never publicly declared to the international community its chemical arsenal, which is understood to comprise hundreds of tons of nerve and blister agents, its doctrine for using such weapons or their exact capabilities. Still, Syria's status as a chemical-weapons possessor is widely accepted as fact."
But then something odd:
"The Middle Eastern state is not known to have ever used those materials, which date back to the 1970s... Most analysts believe that Damascus developed them as a deterrent to outside attack, namely from Israel, and not for use against the Syrian people"
which is of course comforting to The Atlantic's readers. Less so to us.

But how true is it?

In February 1982, the Syrian army, under the orders of Hafez al-Assad, the father of today's Syrian president, conducted a huge attack on the people of Hama, a Syrian city, to suppress a revolt by its Sunni Muslims. The Syrian Human Rights Committee quotes reports that Assad's forces used "containers of cyanide gas to kill all inhabitants of buildings, where rebels were suspected of residing". And the Wikipedia article on the Hama massacre quotes Amnesty International saying that
"the Syrian military bombed the old city center from the air to facilitate the entry of infantry and tanks through the narrow streets; buildings were demolished by tanks during the first four days of fighting. Large parts of the old city were destroyed. There are also unsubstantiated reports of use of hydrogen cyanide by the government forces..."
Unsubstantiated reports? They're a key component of the Syrian story down through the decades owing to the Syrian government's repressive policies. 
In 1963, with the Baath Party coup, all independent papers were banned. In 1970, when Hafez al-Assad gained power, he extended the government's control of the press to complete dominance in all areas... Syrian attitude toward foreign media ranges from disgruntled toleration to hostile. Toleration is accorded so long as the press/media tend not to publish/broadcast any negative stories concerning anything related to Syria. However, as negative stories are often produced, papers are banned, broadcast signals are jammed, and individual journalists are harassed. [Source:]
This is why we never see CNN or France24 reporters speaking to us live from Damascus or any other Syrian location. 

The Atlantic's report leaves readers in no doubt as to the general capacity of the Syrian regime, under Assad the Second, to do massive harm to its own citizens and those of its neighbors. The government
"has earned a reputation for brutality toward its own people. More than 4,000 Syrians have been killed in the political uprising that began this past spring, according to the United Nations. The rising body count has U.S. officials and analysts worried that if the Syrian leadership feels besieged and without other options, it could revise its calculus on the use of chemical weapons against Syrian army defectors and protesters... Syria's chemical-weapons program is considerably larger than Libya's... Syria's chemical-weapons program is understood to be comprised of four production facilities, at al-Safira, Hama, Homs, and Latakia, along with two munitions storage sites at Khan Abu Shamat and Furqlus. Additionally, there is a chemical-weapons research laboratory near Damascus... The Assad regime is thought to possess between 100 and 200 Scud missiles carrying warheads loaded with sarin nerve agent. The government is also believed to have several hundred tons of sarin agent and mustard gas stockpiled that could be used in air-dropped bombs and artillery shells."

No comments: