Austin Bay

On Monday, Syria's dictatorship reminded the world that it possesses weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi delivered the reminder in Arabic, then repeated it in English, in order to "clarify" Syria's intent for Western media and Western audiences.

"Any stocks of WMD," Makdissi said, "or any unconventional weapons that the Syrian Arab Republic possesses ... would never be used against the Syrian people during this crisis, in any circumstances, no matter how the crisis will evolve. ... All the stocks of these weapons ... are monitored and guarded by the Syrian Army. These weapons are meant to be used only and strictly in the event of external aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic."

Makdissi's clarification, however, clarified very little, other than confirming that Bashar Assad's vicious dictatorship has the ability to kill, very quickly, thousands of unprotected civilians using chemical weapons delivered by missiles, rockets, artillery shells or aircraft.

That's not news. Western and Eastern military and intelligence audiences have known for decades that Syria possessed chemical weapons. There is evidence that Syria acquired a small chemical stockpile prior to the 1973 October War with Israel. After that war, the Assad regime (under Hafez Assad, Bashar's father) began developing indigenous manufacturing facilities. They were particularly interested in nerve agents like Sarin and VX. Sarin is relatively easy to synthesize. Japan's Aum Shinrikyo terror cult used homemade Sarin nerve gas in its notorious 1995 Tokyo subway attack.

Makdissi's pledge that Syrian WMD will only be used "in the event of external aggression" provides zero assurance that Assad's teetering regime won't use these weapons against Syrian rebels. Since spring 2011, the Assad regime has insisted that "foreign enemies" back the rebels. A devilish rhetorical dodge looms. At his next press conference, Makdissi can easily portray the rebels as proxy forces for external aggression.

Makdissi didn't translate his WMD statement into Hebrew or Turkish, but his proclamation targets Israelis and Turks.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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