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.
The Israelis, for good reason, fear that in the chaos of the dictatorship's collapse, Syrian WMDs could "disappear" into the arms dumps of terror groups like Lebanon's Hezbollah. Hezbollah possesses rockets that can carry chemical warheads. So when reports appeared in early July that Syria was consolidating its WMD stockpiles, Israel indicated that if the Assad regime collapses, it may seize those stockpiles in order to protect them from Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, on the Turkey-Syria border: Since the downing of a Turkish Air Force jet last month, Turkey has beefed up its military forces. Turkey has even implied that Syrian security forces approaching Turkey may risk attack by Turkish forces.
Turkey claims that it has not provided military aid to Syrian rebels. Military aid, possibly provided by Gulf Arab states, is reaching the rebel Free Syrian Army. It may arrive via Iraq or Lebanon, but Syria insists the bulk comes through Turkey.
Though he did not explicitly articulate the threat, Makdissi's WMD statement reminded the Israeli and Turkish governments that Syrian missiles with chemical warheads could kill thousands of Israeli and Turk civilians. They have an implied choice: Turkey and Israel must refrain from any military action and stop supporting Syrian rebels, or they risk a regional chemical war.
The WMD statement also sends another dreadful message, one directed toward the entire planet, including Syrian rebels: "If we die, you may die, as well." If the regime falls, then the evil genie of mass death may escape to haunt the Middle East and potentially the world. To avoid this horror, follow Russia's and China's lead, and support Assad's tyranny. In this context, the WMDs serve as an insurance policy, wrapped within a suicide pact.
This is "apres nous, le Deluge" brinksmanship, a tin-pot 21st century version of mutual assured destruction (MAD) thermonuclear brinksmanship, but then the Assad regime is on the brink. North Korea's Kim regime already plays this game. Iran's ayatollah tyranny may one day, as well.