The Syrian regime, which has endured nine months of civil unrest spurred by the Arab Spring as it swept across the Middle East, has armed its medium-range missile arsenal with chemical warheads.
According to a report published by the Sabah daily Sunday, Damascus armed 600 one-ton chemical warheads to use in the event of a foreign military intervention. Furthermore, President Bashar al-Assad ordered the deployment of 21 missile launchers along its border with Turkey. Syria’s medium-range missiles that can be equipped with chemical warheads have a range of up to 1,300 kilometers and would include the southern and central provinces of Turkey.
According to the daily, the Syrian military keeps its stockpile of chemical warheads in secret facilities in and around the capital city of Damascus. In mid-November, President Assad held a special meeting with top commanders of the Syrian army and argued over how to respond to a possible military intervention by the international community. Additionally, Russia, which stood by the Assad regime’s defiance of international pressure on Damascus, sent 3 million gas masks to the troubled country. Most of those masks will be distributed to the regime’s loyalists, the families of soldiers and Baath supporters. The distribution of the masks is set to be completed by the end of December, according to the daily.
Syria is believed to have had a chemical weapons arsenal for more than three decades. Following heavy defeats against Israel in conventional warfare, international defense sources believe that following the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Hafez al-Assad, the former general of the Syrian Air Force, decided to bolster Syria’s strategic position through the development of ballistic missiles to counter Israel’s superiority in conventional warfare. The unchallenged superiority Israeli air forces led Syrian generals to push for other means to protect the regime. From then on, Syria has launched clandestine efforts to develop chemical warheads with ballistic missile delivery systems.