In early December, Western intelligence officials said that they have been seeing new signs of activity at the Syrian sites used to store chemical weapons.
The New York Times: The officials said they were not sure whether the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad were preparing to use the chemical weapons, or rather use them to warn the West against aiding the rebels. “It’s in some ways similar to what they’ve done before. But they’re doing some things that suggest they intend to use the weapons. It’s not just moving stuff around. These are different kind of activities.”
That day sees a flurry of diplomatic activity around the Syrian chemical weapons issue:
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says Syrian action on chemical weapons remains a “red line” for the Obama administration and would prompt action from the United States.
Speaking in Prague, she didn’t address news reports of fresh activity at Syrian chemical weapons depots, but stressed that Washington would address any threat that arises.
A few hours later, President Barack Obama warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would be "totally unacceptable" and that the country's leaders would be held accountable.
If Syrian President Bashar Assad made the "tragic mistake" of deploying chemical weapons, there would be consequences, said Obama, while stopping short of detailing those consequences.
debkafile’s military and intelligence sources reveal that the US, Israel, Turkey and Jordan were preparing for the worst-case possibility and getting ready to go into action against Syria the moment Assad gave the order for his chemical weapons military units to start using them in the war on Syrian rebels.
They were also gearing up for Assad to use them against military and civilian targets inside Israel, Turkey and Jordan. The danger was not made public so as to avoid causing panic.
The American magazine WIRED carried a disclosure from “American military sources” that engineers working for the Assad regime have begun combining the two chemical precursors needed to weaponize sarin gas at a site in central Syria. “Physically, they’ve gotten to the point where they can load it up on a plane and drop it,” the official adds.
Syrian sarin convoys move north, Russian ships deliver Iskanders in Tartus
Chemical weapons units equipped with sarin gas shells are spotted by US and Israeli intelligence moving out of the Damascus area northward toward Aleppo, as US, Dutch and German Patriot missile batteries begin landing in Turkey for installation along the Syrian border.
Three Russian warships – the two landing craft Novocherkassk and Saratov, and the aid and supply ship MB-304, dock in Syria’s Tartus port. They deliver a cargo that becomes a strategic game-changer between US and Russia – and not just in Syria but also with regard to the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. Unloaded at Tartus for the Syrian army were 24 state-of-the-art mobile tactical Iskander 9K720 cruise missile systems (NATO code name SS-26 Stone) designed for use in theater-level conflicts.
Notwithstanding the reported mixing by Syrian engineers of the precursor chemicals for weaponizing sarin, the US president’s “red line” appears to have shifted. Both he and Secretary Clinton have dropped their warnings to Assad against “moving” those weapons. Left hanging was a threat of unspecified “consequences” if he uses chemical weapons, presumably against his own people or his neighbors.
The White House says the president has not changed his position at all — it is all in the definition of the word “moving”.
In Syria itself, after three days of fierce combat, the rebels complete their capture of the small town of Al Safira, which is only three kilometers from the Syrian army’s largest chemical weapons store and site of Syrian Scud D missiles loaded with poison chemicals and pointing toward Israel.
This is the closest rebel forces have reached in nearly two years of fighting to a key Syrian WMD base.
The Brits say Syria’s chemical weapons are concentrated at five air bases
Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, the ICRC, announces it is in contact with the Syrian government regarding the possibility of the use of chemical and biological weapons in the war in Syria. The organization said it was in the process of “contingency planning” and expressed concern for the fate of its 100 employees working in Syria.
Syrian army convoys carrying missiles, shells and tankers loaded with chemical and biological weapons continue to drive north.
Western intelligence sources offer three theories to account for the movements: a) As Assad’s warning to the West that his chemical weapons are ready to strike if he faces outside attack or an outside attempt to impose a no-fly zone over Syrian airspace; b) For misleading and baffling Western, Arab and Israeli intelligence watchers monitoring those movements; and c) As decoys to mask the real movements of operational chemical weapons units believe to be secretly taking up positions for action upon receiving a green light from Assad.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague becomes the most senior Western diplomat to say frankly and officially that the UK and US have seen evidence that Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons. The evidence came from intelligence sources, he said, adding that when the President of the United States warned of serious consequences, he means it.
British military sources then disclose that Syria’s chemical weapons are concentrated at five air bases and are being closely watched. They say contingency plans have been drawn up if they show signs of being readied to be loaded and used as weapons.
US lawmaker Mike Rogers: They could be used at a moment’s notice
US House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers says.
"I believe that they [the Syrians] have put elements of their chemical weapons program in a condition of which they could be used at a moment's notice, which is very different from before. And some notion that they have promised not to use them, I don't think the international community … should take that on face value," he said.
"I think there's a danger here, based on the intelligence that we got a few weeks ago, that, you know, they were, in fact, beginning to assemble these weapons and put them together… as the opposition continues to move against the regime – particularly as they move towards Damascus.
Disagreements surface in Israel over the assumption that Syria will use chemical weapons.
Deputy prime minister and Minister for Strategic Affairs Moshe Ya’alon sees no sign of Syrian intentions to attack Israel with chemical weapons, whereas former Mossad chief, Danny Yatom, who is close to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, presents a contrasting and more complex assessment:
1. Once he wages chemical war against his own people, Assad will have no qualms about turning it against Israel, says Yatom;
2. If Assad senses approaching defeat, he may go to war on Israel so as to unite the Syrian people behind him, including the rebels. His first strike may be chemical.
3. If rebel forces associated with Al Qaeda manage to lay hands on chemical weapons, they won’t think twice about unleashing them against Israel.
In all three cases, Yatom is confident Israel will go on the offensive against Syria.
Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren told a FOX television network interviewer, that he could not confirm reports that Syrian chemical weapons had passed into Hizballah’s hands. But if they did, that would change the “rules of the game,” he said, and be a red line for Israel. Ambassador Oren said: “Just imagine, if Hizballah, which already has 70,000 missiles, gets hold of these weapons, there will be thousands of Israelis killed.”
Assad believed to have trucked chemical weapons to Lebanon for Hizballah
A senior US official told Fox News that despite international warnings, Syrian forces had loaded bombs with the components of the deadly sarin nerve gas. The bombs must be used within 60 days before the chemical mix expires and has to be destroyed.
debkafile’s military sources report mounting evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad has transferred a part of his chemical weapons stock to Hizballah to keep them out of the reach of the rebels.
In the middle of last week, Syrian army trucks camouflaged as commercial vehicles drove with a load of chemical weapons from the Syrian base of Jabal Kalamon across the Lebanese border to Hizballah bases in the Beqaa Valley. The load was distributed among several Hizballah strongholds to make it harder to destroy.
In another major war escalation, the Syrian army starts firing Scud missiles at rebel-held areas in the north – At least six were counted thus far, say American sources, who hint that, after firing conventional Scuds, it would be a short jump for Assad to arm them with chemical warheads.
US designation of Jabat al-Nusrah as a terrorist organization associated with Al Qaeda of Iraq, finds Nusrah advancing to within one kilometer from the Al-Safira near Aleppo, and the adjacent military complex housing the largest Syrian chemical weapons store and a missile base. It is widely feared the jihadi fighters may be able to break into the base by week’s end and seize control of the WMD store and Scud-D missiles already armed with chemical warheads.
Assad is firing a different type of Scud missiles to halt this advance. If he fails, the US might be ironically confronted with the necessity to strike the advancing rebel column from the air – instead of Assad’s forces – to prevent Al Qaeda-linked fighters from getting hold of Syria’s chemical weapons.