In August, a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, said the Damascus government would never use chemical arms against its people, but he warned that it would unleash the weapons against what he called foreign invaders. He said the military was guarding the stockpile.
Syria is thought to possess the world’s third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons after United States and Russia, whose Cold War arsenals are being dismantled and destroyed. Syria’s weapons, predominantly deadly nerve agents that can be delivered by artillery rockets, shells and aircraft munitions, were developed for use in a war against Israel.
Meanwhile the latest word is that
The Syrian regime transferred chemical weapons from a storage base near Damascus to the port city of Tartus last month, sparking American and European concerns that the weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah in Lebanon or other extremist organizations inside Syria, against Israel. Nasrallah’s reference to chemical weapons may have followed pressure from Syria’s ally, Russia. Lebanese daily Al-Nahar reported Sunday that a Russian envoy recently arrived in Beirut and warned Nasrallah against accepting chemical weapons from Syria. According to the daily, Russian President Vladimir Putin assured Israel that Syria’s chemical weapons will not leave their storehouses.
Iraq’s Baath Party had a ready ally in Syria’s Baath Party to shift its stockpiles to. Syria has fewer options. There are no other Baath parties and no ruling Alawites. That leaves it with no other choice but to go with Shiite ties.
Hezbollah would not be the smartest choice, but it may be the only practical one. No one is about to let Syria ship chemical weapons to Iran. But Syria has other options. A port city would allow it to move weapons almost anywhere as cargo. And networks of Shiite businessmen around the world play a major role in international trade. Shipping the weapons to somewhere in Africa where there is little law enforcement and a high degree of corruptibility might be one scenario.
The problem with turning over the weapons to Iran or Hezbollah is that getting them back would become difficult. The Assads have learned enough from Saddam not to repeat his mistakes. That means they would be more likely to leave the country and run the resistance from a safe haven and the weapons would be a trump card or a cash source. Moving them to a port may be one of the steps before the rats leave the sinking Syria.
Assuming that they want to avoid a long sea voyage that would increase the risks of the ships showing up on someone’s satellite, there’s always Cyprus. Turkey is now at odds with Syria and with Cyprus and there are a lot of Syrians in Cyprus. Cyprus’ troubled status would make it an ideal base for Assad, as it did for Arafat.