Assad just announced he will hand over chemical weapons. What does it mean?

There are 2 ways of looking at this announcement. The first is that he really is going to hand everything over. The second is that he only hand part of his CW stockpile over and save the rest for use another time.

You have to look at the logistics of what he has said he will do. Is he saying that he will allow the CW to be taken out of the country or is he saying that he will allow inspectors to make sure that nobody can take them out of the storage facilities?

Before answering these questions I should tell you what I know about the different factions of the opposition to Assad in Syria, moderate and extremist. When I was in Syria I met everybody from FSA to extreme Islamist group Jabhat al Nusra. I didn’t meet anybody from Al Qaeda because when I was there earlier this year there were so few they were virtually invisible. Of all my conversations with the different factions we always got into conversations about chemical weapons. When I was there back in the spring, everyone told me, from moderate to extreme Islamist that even if they got their hands on these weapons they would never use them. The moderate FSA is no fan of the extremists but they know them well enough to believe them, that they will not use these weapons. If they did the population would destroy them, the extreme Islamists are too small in number to risk provoking the wrath of 25 million Syrians. For now they are only tolerated because they fight against the Syrian regime. The FSA would never consider doing anything that would kill the people it is fighting for.

If Assad is saying he will get the chemical weapons out of Syria it will be a logistical nightmare, moving an enormous stockpile through the middle of a war zone will be difficult to say the least. I’m also suggesting that the announcement made today is simply a game of smoke and mirrors. He has already used CW on Syrian civilians. It is quite possible to imagine he will do it again. Assad has no qualms about killing even those relatively close to him if it will give a propaganda or political gain.

If inspectors are allowed into the country they will only be shown and given control of a part of the stockpile. Then at a time that suits him he will attack an Alawite town with CW, they are the same tribe as him, he will kill thousands more than in the chemical attack in Damascus. Claiming that all his CW is under the control of international inspectors he will try to make it look as if it was the rebels who made the attack. What will probably happen is that Syria, Russian and Iran will say that the USA is supporting terrorists in the use of chemical weapons in Syria. As a result Syria will ask for international intervention, specifically Russia to help it get rid of the ‘terrorists’. Russia would be complicit in this, they have no qualms about using chemical weapons on their own people. When Chechens took hundreds of Russians hostage in a Moscow theater a few years ago the Russian authorities had no problem using gas in the knowledge that many innocent people would die. The Russian government has a very dim view of its subjects, for them it was more important to kill Chechens than save lives of ordinary Russians. So they have no problem with Assad using chemical weapons.

Another possibility is that Assad will make a show of getting the CW out of the country but it will only be a part. International inspectors will have no way of proving otherwise and then any subsequent chemical attack can be blamed on ‘terrorists’ with the same results.

The final question has to be, if Assad doesn’t use chemical weapons again then what else is he planning with Russia and Iran? If that is their strategy then we are moving into a very dangerous yet predictable area. Don’t forget either that the USA want to keep this war going for as long as possible, they see it as the best way to weaken Iran as it will have to keep on committing more resources to this war if it wants to win.

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