The Syrian crisis unbelievably took another turn for the worse Saturday, Dec. 29: After making no headway with Bashar Assad in Damascus, the UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi was told in no uncertain terms by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow: “There is no possibility of persuading Syrian ruler Bashar Assad to leave Syria.” As they spoke, a record 400 people died in hostilities in the country. The burnt remains of hundreds of people slaughtered by the army were discovered in a Homs district. And Syrian opposition leaders have repeatedly preconditioned their acceptance of the Russian invitation to talks on Assad’s prior exit.
This stalemate is compounded by escalation in the use of two extreme weapons of war. Since Dec. 12, the Syrian army has been firing home-made Scud missiles at rebel centers. The US and NATO have responded by stationing six Patriot batteries manned by 1,000 American, German and Dutch servicemen, on the Turkish-Syrian border to protect Turkey from Syrian attack. The inference here is that so long as the Scuds are confined to targets inside Syria, Western intervention will stop at the border.
Then on Dec. 26, The Syrian army, under the command of Iranian officers, began shooting Fateh A-110 high-precision, short-range surface missiles made in Iran. They were sent to Syria at top speed by an Iranian airlift flying over Iraq. Syria in fact manufactures a local version of the Fateh A-110, called M600. But Tehran decided to deliver the originals to show the world that Assad is not fighting alone and that Iran’s military support for his regime is solid – not just against the uprising, but also against NATO, its missiles and the units which have taken up position in Turkey.
In effect, both sides to the conflict appear to have resorted to a form of chemical warfare. Western and Middle East military sources report that, last week, Syrian forces loyal to Assad are thought to have used in the Homs battle of Dec. 23 grenades containing a gas that paralyzes lungs and causes extreme infirmity, or even death.
Those sources were careful to point out that the gas was most likely “a concentrated irritant,” but not one of the deadly chemical weapons stockpiled by the Assad regime. They were equally careful to avoid indentifying its origin. debkafile’s intelligence sources disclose that these gas grenades were especially developed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps for use against the masses which demonstrated against the 2009 presidential elections. The grenades have now been distributed to pro-Assad Shabiha militias, the Syrian equivalent of Iran’s brutal al Qods Brigades.
The gas grenades were brought out on Dec. 22, the day after the Syrian Presidential Guard reported that seven of its number had died in battle near Damascus as a result of a weapon used by the rebels which “produced a yellow toxic gas.”
This allegation may have been trumped up to justify the pro-Assad forces’ use of toxic gas grenades in Homs. Be that as may, both sides appear to be preparing the ground for chemical warfare. Yet no Western, or any other external power, including Russia, appears ready to intervene to put a stop to the latest horror raising its head in the Syrian conflict, the escalation to chemical warfare – any more than they prevented its descent to the bombardment of civilians by missiles.
In Amman, the Jordanian information minister Sameeh Maaytah, said Sunday, Dec. 30, that his government is prepared for any chemical threat on the kingdom but will not enter into “any alliance” to protect itself.
Several media attributed the minister’s comment to the visit Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu paid to Amman last week for talks with King Abdullah, purportedly about the Syrian chemical weapons threat they share.
debkafile’s military sources point out that only the first half of the Jordanian statement is correct. The other half is as unreal as most of the comments on the chemical weapons peril heard from Western powers, Russia, Israel or Arab spokesmen. It is a fact that Jordan has after all entered into close alliance with NATO, not to mention the US, for protecting the kingdom. This alliance goes forward on six tracks:
1. Learning how to treat victims of a potential Syrian chemical attack;
2. Setting up an American-Jordanian headquarters in Amman for coordinated operations against this threat, similar to the joint outfits the US has established in Israel and Turkey. The Americans have imported to Jordan a military field hospital specializing in the treatment of chemical warfare victims;
3. Since last summer, US Army Green Berets, which specialize in chemical warfare, have been training Jordanian troops;
4. Czech and Polish military units, expert in chemical and biological warfare, are also in the Hashemite kingdom. They are not only teaching Jordanian units how to combat chemical warfare, but also Syrian rebels;
5. US and Jordanian special units are standing ready for orders to enter Syria and attack the sites of the chemical weapons positioned for shooting into Jordan and Israel;
6. The Jordanian army units deployed between the areas around Amman and close to the northern Jordanian border with Syria were issued last week with anti-contamination masks and suits.
All in all, the United States and NATO have prepared Jordan exhaustively for a possible Syrian chemical weapons attack. If this happens, some intelligence sources estimate Israel or Turkey may be targeted next. Given the Syrian conflict’s sequential plunge into unspeakable atrocities, Israel cannot count on being exempt from a poison weapons attack – even before its Jan. 22 general election.