The 2007 explosion at a Syrian chemical weapons plant still taints that country's safety record when it comes to its chemical weapons, so the news that it's breaking them out of storage is, well, disturbing to say the least. Friday's scoop from Julian E. Barnes, Jay Solomon, and Adam Entous, in The Wall Street Journal reports that according to U.S. officials, the Syrian government has started moving its chemical weapons around, but there's still disagreement as to what the plan is for them.
The Journal story outlines three camps within the U.S. intelligence community: Those who believe Bashar al-Assad's regime plans to use the weapons against the rebels in an ethnic cleansing campaign, those who believe it's trying to secure its stockpiles, and those who believe it's moving the weapons as a feint, "hoping the threat of a chemical attack could drive Sunnis thought to be sympathetic to the rebels from their homes." Whichever it is, it's probably not all that wise. Any handling of the weapons is cause for alarm, as the terrain in Syria isn't exactly stable right now with the alleged massacres and continued fighting. Besides, the Syrians don't have a sterling track record of chemical weapons safety: The Journal's report didn't fail to mention that 2007 blast, which killed 15 people as Syrian scientists tried to fit a Scud missile with mustard gas. "Fuel caught fire in a missile production laboratory and 'dispersed chemical agents (including VX and Sarin nerve agents and mustard blister agent) across the storage facility and outside,' " Agence France-Presse reported at the time, quoting Jane's Defense Weekly, which broke the story.
The notion that Syrian chemical weapons could fall into the hands of militants has already been scaring the hell out of U.S. and other Western observers, so the army's taking them out of storage and moving them around, in a country where the phrase "civil war" best describes the environment, should be pretty terrifying.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.