'Syrian regime fighting for its life, but still securing its WMD'
Syria threatened Monday to unleash its chemical and biological weapons if the country faces a foreign attack • Free Syrian Army: "The regime that has not fired a single bullet against Israel during the course of three decades is certainly not going to use chemical weapons against that country" • Obama warns Assad not to make "tragic mistake."
Daniel Siryoti, Shlomo Cesana, Eli Leon, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
In this image from amateur video released by Ugarit News and accessed Monday, July 23, 2012, a Syrian military tank catches on fire during clashes with Syrian government troops in Aleppo.
Photo credit: AP
This citizen journalism image provided by Shaam News Network SNN, taken on Sunday, July 22, 2012, purports to show a fireball in Homs.
Photo credit: AP
Syria threatened Monday to unleash its chemical and
biological weapons if the country faces a foreign attack, a desperate warning
from a regime that has failed to crush a powerful and strengthening
The statement — Syria's first-ever acknowledgement that
the country possesses weapons of mass destruction — suggests President Bashar
al-Assad will continue the fight to stay in power, regardless of the cost.
On Tuesday, the rebel Free Syrian Army said that the
Syrian government has moved chemical weapons to airports on its borders.
"We in the joint command of the Free Syrian Army inside
the country know very well the locations and positions of these weapons," a
statement from the FSA said, Dow Jones Newswire reported.
"We also reveal that (President Bashar al) Assad has
transferred some of these weapons and equipment for mixing chemical components
to airports on the border."
The statement said the weapons had been moved in a bid to
pressure the international community, much of which has called for Assad to step
aside. "According to our information, the regime began moving its stocks of
weapons of mass destruction several months ago...with the goal of putting
pressure on the region and the international community," the FSA said.
But the group said it was impossible to believe that the
regime would use its weapons against neighboring Israel, which has publicly
expressed concerns about the fate of Syria's massive chemical weapons
"The regime that has not fired a single bullet against
Israel during the course of three decades is certainly not going to use chemical
weapons against that country," the statement said.
Speaking to Israel Radio on Tuesday, Amos Gilad, director
of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Defense Ministry, said the
Syrian regime is currently in a battle for its survival, but for the time being,
the Syrian army remains in full control of the country's chemical and biological
weapons. Gilad said there was no inherent, practical implications for reports
that Assad was moving his WMD stockpiles around the country, so long as his
forces were still effectively securing the weapons. Gilad added that despite the
recent defections from the Syrian army, the majority of the army is still loyal
to Assad and his regime.
"Everyone is warning Assad not to use these weapons at all
– it's been a very clear warning and the Syrians have heard these warnings,"
Gilad said, adding that "our information shows that Hezbollah does not have
weapons of mass destruction originating from Syria."
Commenting on Israel's preparations in the face of a
possible spill over of violence from Syria, Gilad told Israel Radio, "Israel is
on alert and focusing on gathering intelligence for a clear picture on what's
happening in Syria and being ready for any development."
"Israel has no intention of attacking Syria," he said but
stressed, "we need to be on alert because we're talking about a brutal regime
that uses murder and rape against its own people.
The intense fighting in Syria, meanwhile, moved even
closer to Israel on Monday as two mortar rounds fired by the Syrian military at
rebel targets landed 400 meters (some 1,300 feet) from the border.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said after meeting in
Brussels with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday that "The
transfer of chemical weapons from Syria to Hezbollah would be crossing a red
line. Israel won't restrain itself and will respond very forcefully if that
happens. Israel has refrained from interfering in any way in what is happening
[in Syria], aside from expressing a willingness to offer humanitarian aid." The
Syrian opposition has rebuffed Israel's offer of aid though, Lieberman said.
President Shimon Peres echoed Lieberman's sentiments,
telling CNN that "The transfer of chemical weapons to terrorist organizations
endangers Israel, as well as many countries in Europe and around the world. If
the choice is between being killed and preventing [the transfer of weapons],
then the answer is clear: prevent.
Peres emphasized that "Israel cannot remain indifferent to
the movement of missiles with chemical warheads, which could be aimed at
[Israel]. Israel has much experience in identifying threats, and so our eyes are
open using all the technology at our disposal."
In regard to Assad's future, Peres said that the embattled
Syrian president has ceased to be a viable alternative to rule. "He's a
despicable murderer of his own people. I advise the Arab League, of which Syria
is a member, to roll up its sleeves and for the first time take an active step
toward ending the slaughter in Syria. I am referring, among other things, to
sending Arab military forces into Syria, under the auspices of the United
Nations, to operate in the streets. The use of chemical weapons violates
international law. Syria and terrorist elements must be put under a clear
warning. We will act until there is no longer a danger."
Syria is believed to have nerve agents as well as mustard
gas, Scud missiles capable of delivering these lethal chemicals and a variety of
advanced conventional arms, including anti-tank rockets and late-model portable
During a televised news conference Monday, Foreign
Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi stressed that Syria's chemical weapons are
secure and would only be used in the case of an external attack.
"No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used, and
I repeat, will never be used, during the crisis in Syria no matter what the
developments inside Syria," he said. "All of these types of weapons are in
storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces
and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external
The Syrian government later tried to back off from the
announcement, sending journalists an amendment to the prepared statement read
out by Makdissi. The amendment said "all of these types of weapons — IF ANY —
are in storage and under security." It was an attempt to return to Damascus'
position of neither confirming nor denying the existence of non-conventional
In his comments to reporters, Makdissi also repeated the
regime's assertion that the country's 17-month-old conflict, which activists say
has killed at least 19,000 people, is not the result of a popular uprising,
casting it instead as the work of foreign extremists looking to destroy the
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during a trip to
Belgrade, Serbia, that "It would be reprehensible if anybody in Syria is
contemplating use of such weapons of mass destruction like chemical weapons. I
sincerely hope the international community will keep an eye on this so that
there will be no such things happening."
U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday said he would hold
Assad responsible if he makes the "tragic mistake" of using his chemical and
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria
Nuland said Monday that "any possible use of these kinds of weapons would be
"The Syrian regime has a responsibility to the world, has
a responsibility first and foremost to its own citizens to protect and safeguard
those weapons," she said, adding that Washington was working with allies to
monitor the situation and send the message to both Syria's government and
opposition about the importance of protecting non-conventional weapons.
A senior U.S. intelligence official said Friday the
Syrians have moved chemical weapons material from the country's north, where the
fighting was fiercest, apparently to both secure and consolidate it, which U.S.
officials considered a responsible step.
But there has also been a disturbing rise in activity at
the installations, so the U.S. intelligence community is intensifying its
monitoring efforts to track the weapons and try to figure out whether the
Syrians are trying to use them, the official said on condition of anonymity to
discuss the still-evolving investigation.
Even as the government appeared
to be reasserting control in the capital after the weeklong rebel assault, the
Arab League offered Assad and his family a "safe exit" if he steps down.
"This request comes from all the ... Arab states: Step
aside," said Qatari Prime Minister Hamid bin Jassim Al Thani at an Arab League
foreign ministers meeting in Doha, Qatar, that concluded at dawn Monday. He
urged Syria to form a temporary transitional government to plan for a possible
post-Assad era. Makdissi dismissed the offer as "flagrant interventionism."
The Arab League has already suspended Syria's membership
and it is doubtful that Assad will pay much attention to their calls.