US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta pays a short visit of a few hours to the Incirlik air base in southern Turkey where US fighter jet squadrons are stationed alongside Turkish Air Force warplanes.
While in Turkey, he conferred with Turkish Defense Secretary Ismet Yilmaz, Chief of Staff Gen. Necdet Ozel, and senior American commanders in the area, including NATO commander Adm. James Stavridis.
After talking to Panetta, Adm Stavridis said, “Over the past few days, a handful of Scud missiles were launched inside Syria, directed by the regime against opposition targets. Several landed fairly close to the Turkish border, which is very worrisome.”
US and allied officials tell US Public Radio that President Bashar Assad had prepared several dozen bombs and shells loaded with the lethal chemical sarin in the past weeks. They are especially alarmed by his resort to Scud missiles because they are capable of carrying chemical warheads. Those officials also disclose that Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is a lot bigger than previously thought.
CIA contractors are training rebels in Jordan on how to identify and safeguard chemical weapons that are located in dozens of sites, some of them not far from the Syrian border. The Czech Republic, which has expertise in chemical weapons, is taking the lead in a robust rebel training effort, officials say.
Tehran then further boosts tensions with an inflammatory comment by Iranian armed forces chief Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi. He says that the posting of NATO Patriot missiles along the Turkish-Syrian border could lead to a world war: “They are making plans for a world war, and this is very dangerous for the future of humanity and for the future of Europe itself,” he said.
The next day, President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad cancels a planned visit to Ankara – in light of Gen. Firouzabadi’s remarks.
Jordan hands out anti-contamination gear to Syrian border troops
Syrian UN ambassador Bashar Ja’afari sends a letter to UN Secretary Ban ki-Moon, describing his government as “genuinely worried” that some countries might arm extremist groups with chemical weapons and then throw the blame on the Syrian government.”
This complaint was interpreted in the West and the UN as another sign of Syria’s own impending use of chemical weapons.
Deputy UN Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous announced that UN troops stationed on the Syria-Israel border had been issued with protective gear against chemical weapons, supplied by the US army. Ladsous also surprised journalists by reporting that the world body continues to draw up contingency plans for the deployment of a UN force to Syria – a possibility never raised before.
Assad’s mobile unconventional weapons truck-labs
The Jordanian army declares an alert along the Jordan-Syria border and starts handing out anti-contamination gear to the troops. Saudi sources say this means Amman was tipped off by US army and NATO headquarters that Assad is close to launching his chemical weapons against his foes.
American, Czech and Polish special forces are positioned in Jordan already primed to handle a Syrian chemical weapons strike.
Israel Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel says, “We are prepared to deal with all types of scenarios and threats. In Syria there are advanced weapons systems of every type, including unconventional weapons.”
Washington Post political columnist David Ignatius reports that the information he received from an unnamed Syrian defector, that in late 2011, the Syrian army built special mobile field laboratories for chemical weapons, was corroborated by a US intelligence source.
The defector revealed that special trucks designed to mix as well as transport the weapons were constructed at a workshop in the Damascus suburb of Dummar, part of a network of secret research facilities known in Arabic as the “Bohous.”
Their construction began in the summer of 2011 – a few months after an uprising began threatening Assad’s regime.
In the Dummar workshop, the Syrian defector said, technicians constructed a mobile lab that could combine and activate so-called “binary” chemical weapons agents. Outwardly, the Mercedes and Volvo trucks looked like refrigerator trucks. Inside, were storage tanks, pipes and a motor to drive the mixing machinery, he said. He estimated that 10 to 15 of these mobile laboratories had been constructed.
An independent source said these numbers were high, but he confirmed that the Syrians do have mobile labs. All in all, no Western, Arab or Israeli intelligence source knows for sure when, from where and by whom Syria’s chemical weapons may be activated.
The Al-Qaida-linked Nusrah front again nears Al-Safira
Syrian rebel forces, spearheaded by the US-designated Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusrah battalions, launch an all-out assault from three directions – east, west and south – on the town of Al-Safira and the adjacent military industrial complex, where arsenals of chemical and biological weapons are kept together with Scud-D missiles.
Syrian Air Force planes and attack helicopters reinforce the Scud missiles pounding the advancing rebel forces. By now, after several reverses, the rebels are again within 1-2 kilometers of the perimeter fences of the Al Safira complex.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov makes a dramatic announcement: He reports that the Syrian government has consolidated its chemical weapons in one or two locations amid a rebel onslaught, that they were under control “for now” and that Russia advisers training Syria’s military were keeping a close watch over this arsenal.
debkafile reports from its military and intelligence sources that Lavrov was signaling Washington that the chemical weapons were now safely out of reach of the Nusrah front.
The Israeli Defense Ministry’s political coordinator Amos Gilad endorses Lavrov’s assurance:
“At the moment, the chemical weapons are under control,” he said.
Senior officials in Jerusalem confirmed the report appearing in the London-based Al Quds newspaper that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Amman and met with Jordan’s King Abdullah. According to this paper, he went to discuss a possible attack on Syria’s chemical weapons, if the situation deteriorated further.