NBC Weapons: Syrian Chemical Weapons

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NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS

June 6, 2013: Israel has repeated, several times, its threat to use air attacks against Syrian chemical weapons storage sites if there is any sign that these weapons are being turned over to terrorist groups (including the Lebanese Hezbollah). The U.S. has made a similar threat in the past, but the Israelis are more intense about this because they have long been the primary target for Syrian chemical weapons. This attack would be carried out even if the rebels (which include Islamic terrorist groups) were about to take possession of one of the four chemical weapons factories or one of several dozen storage sites for chemical weapons. The U.S. is known to have coordinated similar attack plans with Israel and now even the Arabs and Turkish backers of the rebels have been brought in on this planning (because of the fear Islamic terrorists would get this stuff and use it against Moslem targets).

Syria always denied that it had chemical weapons or that it was preparing to use these weapons it does not have. And the world always knew this was a lie. In the past year there have been several reports of activity around bunkers said to hold Syrian chemical weapons and that some of the chemicals were being loaded into bombs, artillery shells, or some of the several hundred ballistic missile warheads. Once that loading is done the bombs, shells, or warheads must be used soon because these containers are more subject to leakage than the industrial type storage tanks the mustard or nerve gas is normally kept in. Western governments, especially the United States, have announced that they will send in troops to seize the chemical weapons if the Syrian military uses them or there is any risk that Islamic radical groups are about to capture them. The latter seems more likely and the U.S. is apparently preparing to send in special operations troops to seize these weapons or use special incendiary bombs to burn them up.

Based on the experience in Iraq and Libya, getting troops to numerous chemical weapons storage sites is not practical, while using air attacks with special incendiary smart bombs is. In the past the terrorists have not been adept or prepared to transport chemical weapons captured from these storage sites. To do so would require special preparations (vehicles, special tools, some specific technical knowledge, and protective gear at the very least) that no Islamic terrorist groups appear to have undertaken, yet. So the prospects for a successful air attack are good.

Israel has long prepared to deal with Syrian chemical weapons, even if they land in Israel. Since 1990, Israeli civilians have had gas masks for protection against chemical attack by Iraqi missiles. Eight years ago those older gas masks were collected, checked, refurbished as needed, and stored in army warehouses. The government felt that, with Saddam Hussein out of power, there was no other potential source of chemical attack, so no need to maintain the gas masks in the hands of the civilian population. But then Syria became more of a threat (with their hundreds of ballistic missiles and large supplies of chemical weapons). Suddenly, the Israeli military realized that they had not refurbished all the masks because they lacked the money. On top of that there was the problem of finding a supplier for new masks, since many of the old ones were too far gone for refurbishment. When pressed on this matter the Defense Ministry said that there would be six months warning of a chemical attack, which would be ample time to get the gas mask problem taken care of. Then it was pointed out that the 2006 war in southern Lebanon came without warning and the Syrians could have gotten involved with that one. Then, for nearly a year, there was a budget dispute between the Defense and Treasury officials, over who should provide the money to hire a contractor to actually distribute the masks. There was much speculation over how much more this situation can be screwed up.

But progress is being made. In 2011, civil defense exercises tested a new system that sent alerts, to those in areas about to be hit by a missile, via cell phone text messages. The missile detection radars can calculate where the target is and an automated system sends out the text messages to cell phones of people who live in the target area. That gives people a few minutes to seek shelter. Without gas masks and early warnings it's calculated that at least 16,000 Israeli civilians would die if the Syrians attack with their missiles (armed with chemical warheads) and if the new gas masks are not available to people in the target area. Syria may cease to be a threat if the current revolution there succeeds, but Iran still has missiles equipped with chemical weapons. So the Israeli civil defense exercises continue.

 


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