By SAMARA GREENBERG, JEWISH POLICY CENTER—
According to a report in the German weekly Der Spiegel, the Syrian army in August is believed to have test fired missile systems using empty shells devised for delivering chemical agents. The tests, according to witnesses, took place near Syria’s largest chemical weapons facility, the Safira research center, where Iranian and North Korean scientists are believed to assist in the production of chemical agents such as sarin, tabun, and mustard gas. Members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were flown in for the testing, according to the witness statements.
Following the Der Spiegel report, the Times of London published an interview with the former head of Syria’s chemical arsenal, Maj.-Gen. Adnan Sillu, who defected three months ago. According to the general, he was present at top-level talks where plans to use chemical weapons against the rebels and civilians “as a last resort” were discussed. He also noted that the regime considered transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah “for use against Israel, of course.”
There is increasing fear that Damascus has begun moving its chemical arsenal for potential use. In July, the Free Syrian Army accused the Syrian president of moving chemical weapons to the country’s borders. According to an Israeli defense official, Syria has stationed one cache of chemical weapons near the Lebanese border to “broadcast to the world to watch out – the Syrians are serious.” And last month, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Rai reported that the regime transferred chemical weapons from a storage facility near Damascus to the city of Tartus. In addition, earlier this month it was reported that Syria’s chemical stockpile may be more widely distributed than originally thought, with chemical weapons and components scattered across as many as 20 sites — some that cannot be detected by spy satellites.
The Asad regime has said it will not use chemical weapons against its people, which, along with “seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around,” would be a “red line” for President Obama that would force a change in his “calculus” when it comes to intervening in Syria’s war. If the reports highlighting Syria’s chemical weapons movements and testing are true, one of the Obama administration’s stated red lines has already been crossed. Still, the question of whether or not the president will decide to intervene in Syria remains unanswered.