'Israel: State of Syrian chemical weapons could change in a moment'
DEBKAfile Special Report January 8, 2013
Syrian chemical weapons site
“Syria’s chemical weapons are under control for now, but no one in America or Israel can tell what the situation will be five minutes from now,” a senior Israeli defense official told DEBKAfile Tuesday, Jan.8. The situation is dangerously fluid because there is no certainty about who is in control, or when some Syrian chemical unit commander may take it into his head to use it.”
There were two touch-and-go moments in the last two months – first, when Assad was on the verge of directing chemical arms to be used against the rebels; second, when Al Qaeda’s Jabhat al-Nusrah front fighting in rebel ranks came close to getting hold of them. The first occurred in the last week of November and the second in the last ten days of December.
The New York Times Tuesday reported that, in the first instance, Israel’s top military commanders called the Pentagon to discuss troubling intelligence showing up on satellite imagery that “Syrian troops appeared to be mixing chemicals at two storage sites, probably the deadly nerve gas sarin, and filling dozens of 500-pound bombs that could be loaded on airplanes.”
American sources then mobilized international forces, Russia, China, Turkey, Jordan and other Arab nations for sharply worded messages to the Syrian ruler Bashar Assad and his senior commanders to stop the mixing of chemicals and preparation of bombs. The sources did not say what persuaded Assad to halt the process. According to DEBKAfile’s military sources, there was no direct threat of US or NATO military action in Syria.
Our sources add that, among the messages’ recipients, were commanders of the top secret Chemical Weapons Unit 450 of the Syrian Air Force. This brought to light for the first time that the US has developed direct channels of communications to Syrian unit commanders, including a top-secret air force outfit which has not so far taken part in the fighting.
According to DEBKAfile’s American sources, the bombs filled with sarin were not dismantled and they are still sitting in stores at - or in close proximity to - Syrian air forces bases, ready for operational use at short notice.
This means that the Syrian ruler in effect flouted the American demand, although it was backed by Moscow, to dismantle the bombs. In his defiant speech Sunday, Jan. 6, Assad made it clear that he “no longer takes dictation from anyone” – especially the West.
It is important to note that sarin nerve gas once mixed has a life of 60 days, after which it must be destroyed. More than half of this period has elapsed and so the Syrian ruler has until the end of January to decide how he wants to dispose of those deadly bombs.
The German newspaper Die Welt recently quoted the head of the BIND external intelligence service as estimating that he Syrian Air Force was able to have chemical weapons ready for operation within four to six hours from receiving an order. The New York Times believes that two hours would be enough.
Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a rare comment on the Syrian chemical weapons question, told a cabinet meeting that the Syrian regime is very unstable and “the question of chemical weapons here worries us.” He said that Israel was coordinating with the United States and others “so that we might be prepared for any scenario and possibility that could arise.”
Then, in an interview Monday, Netanyahu warned that world peace is under grave peril from the nuclear weapons under development in Iran and Syria’s chemical arms arsenal, which could reach the wrong hands. A senior security official told DEBKAfile that the prime minister was referring to the repeated rebel assault on Syria’s largest chemical weapons depot at a=Al Safira near Aleppo, which has been repulsed by the Syrian army – for now.