Foreign Policy

Syria continues to be making an attempt to make use of chemical weapons

Syria continues to receive components for its chemical weapons and missile programs, the Trump administration said in one Report to Congress earlier that year as the Bashar al-Assad regime seeks to restore capabilities undermined by nearly a decade of civil war and successive US air strikes.

The finding – confirmed to Foreign policy Current and former officials of the Trump administration, who feared a possible establishment of missile production facilities in Syria, could threaten Israel, come from current and former US officials and from diplomatic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Although the Assad regime has completed the destruction of the declared production facilities [for chemical weapons] and the supply of [chemical weapons] active substances in Syria, it continues to pursue chemical weapons and has used both chlorine and sarin several times in the course of the conflict. The State Department reported to Congress earlier this year in a document from Foreign policy. "We believe that the Assad regime is trying to restore strategic arms production capabilities lost in the course of the conflict, and we continue to see Syrian procurement activities in support of its chemical weapons and missile programs."

At a meeting of the United States Security Council on Monday, Kelly Craft accused the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Syria, of violating its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and United States resolutions to phase out its chemical weapons program. The United States attributes more than 50 chemical weapon use cases to the Assad regime, which was launched primarily from airplanes and targets civilians in neighborhoods, markets and hospitals. Many of the chemical weapons the regime has in store in view of international arms control agreements can be brought into being by Syria ballistic missiles.

It is not clear to US officials that Iran would consider transferring ballistic missiles directly to Assad, which would greatly extend the range of Damascus' deadly sarin and chlorine supplies. However, the Syrian regime's continued efforts to secure chemical weapons have raised concerns in Washington and Jerusalem.

The cooperation between Iranian representatives and Damascus in arms production is not uncommon. In the past, the Syrian regime developed improvised rocket ammunition to fire chemical weapons designed by Hezbollah Jane's Defense Weekly reported that Iran previously supported the growth of Syria's surface-to-surface missile program.

In the report to Congress received from Foreign policyThe Foreign Ministry warned that Iran was also taking advantage of the Syrian war to set up a group of multinational militia forces along the border crossing routes and to fly armed drones into nearby Israel. A former Trump administration official said the United States had a green light Israeli air strikes in Syria targeting Iranian efforts to house missile facilities near the border in what is seen as a red line for Israel. Concern about Iranian missile locations has only increased, according to official sources and diplomatic sources, as Iran stepped up efforts to manufacture precision guidance kits on Syrian soil that can increase the accuracy of short-range missiles fired at Israel.

Meanwhile, Assad's continued efforts to rebuild Syrian chemical weapons production seem to matter not only to the impact on human rights, but also to the threats that it would pose to US allies and partners.

"The reappearance of Assad's offensive chemical weapons program would be significant," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. "It is one thing to drop barrel bombs from helicopters. It is another thing to have sarin available for use on ballistic missiles that can hit other countries in the region. These are two very different threats."

Kimball said it is difficult for NGOs to independently confirm whether Assad is taking steps to rebuild his chemical weapons program. "It wouldn't be surprising if US intelligence agencies judged that the Assad regime is trying to restore some of its previous programs," he said. "If there is evidence, it has a responsibility to bring that evidence to the [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW] so that it can transfer the full weight of the organization and the international community to Syria."

The resilience of Assad's chemical weapons program appears to be flying in the face of optimism from U.S. civil and military officials following successive U.S. missile strikes against air bases and facilities in 2017 and 2018. At the time, Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie did not rule out the possibility of the regime's future attacks on chemical weapons by the regime in 2018, despite saying the multinational attack, which included Britain and France, dealt a "very serious blow" to Assad's program. However, former officials said the Trump administration must balance its desire to deliver a blow to the Syrian regime with concerns about collateral damage on a crowded battlefield.

"We definitely wanted to do something actual about their abilities that was not only symbolic, but we didn't want to kill a few Russians," said a former senior Trump administration official. "It would have exhausted their general ability, but we didn't want to hit a number of places where Iranian and Russian advisors were present."

But even before the strikes, Western intelligence agencies and international weapons inspectors long suspected that Assad had hidden some supplies of chemical weapons after declaring that he had abolished the entire program as part of a US-Russia brokered pact In 2013. These concerns have been reiterated by ongoing reports that Syrian forces continued to fire sarin and chlorine-filled ammunition at civilian towns in rebel-controlled areas.

Back in 2016, international chemical weapons experts described a worrying pattern of incomplete and inaccurate information about the scope of Syria's ongoing chemical weapons program at the Hague-based OPCW. This emerges from a confidential report from 2016 that has been audited by Foreign policy.

"We are therefore still very concerned that [chemical weapons] agents and related ammunition, subject to explanation and destruction, have been illegally detained by Syria," said then-Washington envoy to the OPCW, Kenneth Ward.

There was evidence that Syria was trying to restore its chemical weapons program. "The United States has been sanctioning frontline companies that work for the Syrian chemical weapons program since 2013 and 2014 – this indicates ongoing procurement attempts," said Gregory Koblentz, a professor at George Mason University.

For example, France issued a statement in April 2017 claiming Syrians were trying to acquire supplies of isopropanol, a chemical precursor used in the manufacture of sarin. The OPCW also said it found "major inconsistencies" in the Syrian regime's declarations for the discovery of traces of sarin in locations that were not reported to inspectors as an arms factory.

That year, a United States panel of experts overseeing North Korea's compliance with United States sanctions found that Pyongyang had routinely dispatched potentially critical supplies to a Syrian entity – the Scientific Study and Research Center – which the Syrian program for supervised chemical weapons.

Koblentz said the government's reference to a strategic program indicated that Syria may seek to escalate its chemical weapons threat to fend off attacks from regional rivals, particularly Israel. While some US officials believe so the trump card administration solid diet Of sanctions against Assad has dampened what was absolutely necessary to cause trouble in the region. Experts insist the regime will continue to try to double its chemical weapons arsenal.

"The first thing you always have to say is that the disarmament was incomplete and not only in terms of the amount of agents but also in terms of production capabilities," said Tobias Schneider, a research fellow at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin conducted several studies on the Assad regime's chemical weapons program.

"It was the consensus that the program had survived and was consolidated on a smaller scale, but that it continued quietly," he said.

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