Forget Iraq when talking about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), forget Libya too when talking about sophisticated weaponry, and even forget Iran’s rhetoric of bombing Israel with a nuclear bomb when talking about the threat to peace in the Middle East. It is in-fact Syria that poses the threat by having the fourth largest stockpile of chemical and biological weapons in the world. After yesterday’s excellent contribution from Jonathan Bertman on the subject, I too thought I would add my thoughts.
Since the 1980s Syria has been amassing huge numbers chemical weapons including mustard gas, sarin nerve agent, VX nerve agent and cyanide gas that worryingly can be fitted to ballistic missiles and high tech shoulder-fired rockets. With the slow disintegration of the Syria’s security apparatus it is thought that these weapons will eventually fall into the hands of extremist groups. The recent news that President Assad ordered the transfer of some of these weapons from highly secure compounds to unknown locations has sparked fear in the International Community, that some of these weapons could fall into the wrong hands sooner than expected.
With increasing numbers of Jihadi groups operating in the Syrian conflict a repeat of Libya is feared, where an estimated 20,000 missiles were taken during the revolution, and some eventually making their way into Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) hands. But with the extremist groups in Syria, many of who are openly hostile towards Hezbollah and Israel (for example Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Jabhat al Nusra), and others who will carryout opportunistic sales of weapons to regional groups (such as Hezbollah and Hamas), there is a real threat that these weapons could not just affect Syria but also the region. Israel for one is worried out this fact on its northern border, though some experts stress that the threat is still low due to the expertise required to deploy these weapons effectively.
Despite Iran’s rhetoric (it is by most accounts still some years away from gaining “the bomb”) it is unlikely that the region will be affected by the Islamic theocracy anytime soon. It is Syria and the conflict there that the region and indeed the world should watch.
J Robinson – Twitter@ jprobinsons
This post was first posted on “The Old UAR”, a blog about events in the Middle East, run by Jonathan Bertman.