There is no need for the Syrian army to combine stuff and fill it up because the precursors are already stored in the ammunition when that artillery ammunition or aerial bomb is fabricated. They are stored in two separate chambers and the ammunition is safe for transport and storage. Only firing the ammunition or dropping the bomb will combine the binaries.
What the anonymous American official claims is not happening in Syria. If the Wired writers Noah Shachtman and Spencer Ackerman, (an avid defender of Israel firsters some might note), had even some basic knowledge about ammunition engineering they would not fall for such a stupid claim some anonymous official makes.
The claim that “the Assad regime in Syria have begun combining the two chemical precursors” is definitely wrong. Whatever the Syrian army is doing or not doing with its strategic weapons, it is not what that anonymous “American official” claims.
Western governments worry about a number of scenarios, all of which are, according to Emile Hokayem, a Bahrain-based analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), “plausible but not probable”. The first is that Mr Assad’s government, despite its most recent announcement, will use chemical weapons in desperation against the insurgent Free Syrian Army or as a terror tactic against a city that it has lost. Neither is very likely. Militarily, shells and rockets with chemical warheads may be useful against dense force concentrations. But against dispersed irregular forces, they may well be more dangerous to those firing them. Raining nerve agent down on the civilian inhabitants of a city might disgust even the regime’s staunchest supporters.
A Scud-based attack on Israel would be even more counter-productive: the Scuds are not generally accurate and would probably do little serious damage. But even if they avoided Israel’s missile defences they would prompt a furious response. Of more concern is the possibility of chemical warheads being transferred to Hizbullah, the Shia party-cum-militia that dominates southern Lebanon. However, as Dina Esfandiary, a proliferation expert at the IISS in London, argues, Hizbullah, which increasingly wants to be seen as a state actor rather than a non-state one, would have little interest in acquiring them.
By far the biggest worry is that in the chaos engulfing Syria, some chemical weapons might fall into terrorist hands. Al-Qaeda has often said it would use WMD if it got hold of them, and it appears that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organisation’s leader, has encouraged his sympathisers to join the Syrian opposition. Ms Esfandiary is far from dismissive of the danger, but is sceptical. Big volumes of chemicals are hard to transport invisibly, and trained people in protective gear are needed to mix the components into a deadly concoction. Firing a weapon at precisely the right angle for the canister to open up and spread its contents is hard, says Mr Hokayem. Biological weapons are even trickier to handle and lose effectiveness very quickly. That said, the psychological impact of an al-Qaeda WMD attack in the West would be devastating and the risk is big enough to do everything possible to prevent it.
Pre-emptive air strikes against Syria have been discussed. But they would almost certainly leave some of the material intact, and the chance of accidental dispersal would be high; many storage and production sites are near population centres. The CIA has been working with Jordan’s special forces. But without the right training and equipment to seize and neutralise stockpiles, their effectiveness might be limited to providing timely intelligence about where they were. Ms Esfandiary says the main efforts must be aimed at deterring Syria’s rulers from using their WMD (making it clear that they would be signing their own death warrant if they did), working with neighbouring states to stop leakage, and helping the rebels to prevent terrorist groups from exploiting their success. Mr Assad could also try to partition the country, taking his WMD with him. “That”, says Mr Hokayem, “could be a huge issue down the road.”
US president, Barack H. Obama, wagged his finger at Damascus, and there looks to be some running for the exits going on.
Obama told a gathering of nuclear proliferation experts in Washington: “The use of chemical weapons is, and would be, totally unacceptable and if you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences and you will be held accountable.”
Obama did not outline what consequences would be taken.
His words echoed a similar warning to Damascus from the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton: “I am not going to telegraph any specifics what we do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people, but suffice to say we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur.”
CNN reported that Syrian forces had started to combine chemicals to make deadly sarin gas which it could deploy against anti-government fighters. The network cited an unnamed US official as the source of its report.
Damascus has denied the suggestion that it would resort to chemical warfare. “Syria has stressed repeatedly that it will not use these types of weapons, if they were available, under any circumstances against its people,” the foreign ministry said on Monday.
With little indication of an end to the conflict in Syria and signs that Assad’s regime is becoming more desperate in the face of persistent opposition forces, the United Nations is preparing to evacuate all non-essential staff from Syria.
Those who remain in the country will be on standby to move to places of safety, said the UN, citing the “prevailing security situation” amid growing fears in Washington that the beleaguered regime is considering using chemical weapons. The European Union also announced it was cutting its activities in the country.
On a fast-moving day of diplomatic and military action, the Syrian government’s foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, was reported to have defected.
The UN’s under-secretary for safety and security, Gregory Starr, said it had cancelled all missions to Syria from abroad and suspended its activities inside the country. The decision marks the final step before a full-scale evacuation, a move that has not been ordered at any point during Syria’s steady descent into chaos over the past 20 months.
There’s also talk of 75,000 American troops, to secure those chemical binaries, and a White House official used the term, “red line”.
We’ve long traced interesting Intertoobz blackouts caused by cut cables on this blog: the recent blackout in Djibouti. to a cable in the Bay Area, to a number of cut cables in the Middle East back in 2008.
It appears to be an increasingly common tactic, one difficult to attribute to a specific actor.
But if one of those actors comes out a few days after an outage and says they have no reason to find that outage as suspicious as the mixing of CW, maybe it’s not so hard to attribute after all.
Thump, thump, thump…