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March 07, 2012

Fearful of a nuclear Iran? The real WMD nightmare is Syria

March 07, 2012

March 07, 2012

By Charles P. Blair

Article Highlights: 

- Syria has one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapons programs in the world and may  also possess offensive biological weapons.
- Longstanding terrorist groups and newly arrived Al Qaeda-affiliated fighters from Iraq have been active in Syria during that country's recent insurgency.
- The United States and regional powers -- including Saudi Arabia and Iran -- need to start planning now to keep Syria's WMD out of terrorist hands if the Assad regime falls.
As possible military action against Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program looms large in the public arena, far more international concern should be directed toward Syria and its weapons of mass destruction. When the Syrian uprising began more than a year ago, few predicted the regime of President Bashar al-Assad would ever teeter toward collapse. Now, though, the demise of Damascus's current leadership appears inevitable, and Syria's revolution will likely be an unpredictable, protracted, and grim affair. Some see similarities with Libya's civil war, during which persistent fears revolved around terrorist seizure of Libyan chemical weapons, or the Qaddafi regime's use of them against insurgents. Those fears turned out to be unfounded.

But the Libyan chemical stockpile consisted of several tons of aging mustard gas leaking from a half-dozen canisters that would have been impossible to utilize as weapons. Syria likely has one of the largest and most sophisticated chemical weapon programs in the world. Moreover, Syria may also possess an offensive biological weapons capability that Libya did not.

While it is uncertain whether the Syrian regime would consider using WMD against its domestic opponents, Syrian insurgents, unlike many of their Libyan counterparts, are increasingly sectarian and radicalized; indeed, many observers fear the uprising is being "hijacked" by jihadists. Terrorist groups active in the Syrian uprising have already demonstrated little compunction about the acquisition and use of WMD. In short, should Syria devolve into full-blown civil-war, the security of its WMD should be of profound concern, as sectarian insurgents and Islamist terrorist groups may stand poised to seize chemical and perhaps even biological weapons.


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