Monday, August 07, 2006

The Syrian Army

Fred Kaplan in Slate back in 2003.
After the Israelis stripped bare the myth of Syrian defenses in 1982, Hafez Assad abandoned his goal of achieving "strategic parity" with Israel and instead aimed for "strategic deterrence." To that end, he built up huge stockpiles of biological and especially chemical weapons—including an arsenal of missiles with sufficient range to reach Israeli cities, as well as bombs and artillery shells to kill enemy troops on the battlefield. (This shift of doctrine and the resulting chemical buildup might be a source of solace for Bashar right now, but they also provide evidence that he knows how weak his conventional forces are; he knows that Dad pretty much stopped competing in that arena.)

Hafez Assad received his first batch of chemical artillery shells as a gift from Egypt just before the Yom Kippur War in 1973. After that, he started buying them in quantity from the USSR and Czechoslovakia, though it's generally believed that the Soviets refused to help him set up his own production facilities. For that, he went shopping in China and North Korea. Until the early '90s, before export controls started tightening, he also bought chemical precursors from companies in France, Germany, Austria, Holland, and Switzerland (from the same firms that supplied Iraq). He started producing nerve gas in 1984 and was able to pack chemical weapons into missile warheads by the following year. The CIA estimates that Assad started deploying missiles with VX nerve gas in 1997. He is thought to possess 500 to 1,000 tons of chemical agents, including VX and sarin.

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