The Patriot defense missile that NATO has just approved for deployment in Turkey could be used in intercepting Syrian missiles with chemical warheads, a senior NATO commander said on Wednesday.
Frederick Ben Hodges, commander of NATO's newly activated Allied Land Command in İzmir, said there is no doubt that Syria possesses chemical weapons and that the international community has made it clear that Syria's use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated. "If for some reason Syria decided to use missiles with chemical heads, Patriot missiles have the ability to render the Syrian missiles ineffective,” he told the Anatolia news agency.
NATO ministers meeting in Brussels on Tuesday approved plans to deploy the Patriot systems near Turkey's border with Syria to augment Turkey's air defense system. The ministers have also unanimously expressed "grave concern" about US intelligence reports suggesting Syria might use chemical weapons as a last resort to protect embattled President Bashar al-Assad, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
Rasmussen and officials from the US and other Western countries have warned this week that any use of chemical weapons by Syria would prompt an international response. Syria says it would never use chemical weapons on its own people. On Wednesday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated that use of chemical weapon would be a “red line” for the US. "Our concerns are that an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons, or might lose control of them to one of the many groups that are now operating within Syria," Clinton told a news conference in Brussels.
Hodges also said the actual deployment of Patriots will not take a long time. “I cannot give you a specific date about the deployment of Patriots but it will be shorter than what most of the people expect,” Hodges was quoted as saying by Anatolia.