For the past week, US officials have kept up a flow of leaks to the media suggesting that Syrian President Bashar Assad was on the verge of ordering his army to unleash chemical weapons. The details built up as the week went by, starting with the detection of “unusual movements” of Syrian chemical weapons units, advancing to reports that the Syrians were “mixing precursor chemicals” for the nerve gas sarin and on Thursday, Dec. 6, that bombs had been made ready with sarin gas for loading onto Syrian Air Force fighter-bombers when Assad gave the word.
Saturday, Dec. 8, British Foreign Secretary William Hague reported evidence from intelligence sources that Syria is preparing to use chemical weapons. British intelligence sources added that Syria's chemical weapons are concentrated at five air bases and are being closely watched. They said contingency plans have been drawn up if they show signs of being readied to be loaded and used as weapons.
Who are the close watchers and what are the contingency plans?
In its last issue, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources disclosed that US, Israeli, Jordanian and Turkish special forces are spread out on the ground in Syria, armed with special gear for combating chemical arms. They are close enough to count the convoys carrying canisters, shells or bombs loaded with poison gas and their reports are supplemented by orbiting US military surveillance satellites and drones able to pinpoint the position of the chemical munitions at any given moment.
debkafile also reported Saturday that the rebels had seized a “chlorine factor” at Al Safir, the cover name for Bashar Assad’s largest chemical store and base, where also he keeps Syrian Scud D missiles armed with chemical warheads ready to fire at Israel.
The strange thing about these tactics is this: If “US officials” – military and intelligence – were able to keep track step by step of the movements of Syria’s poisonous weapons, believe that sooner or later Assad will use them and have issued grave warnings, why didn’t they take preventive action in good time?
Yet to date, President Barack Obama has held back from ordering an attack on the Syrian army’s chemical units – just as the Syrian ruler is abstaining from issuing the final “go” order to use those weapons.
It seems that neither wants to go first.
We seem to be witnessing a high-stake poker game between Washington and Damascus over a deck of chemical cards, each waiting to see who blinks first.
If the Americans attack, Assad will feel he is justified in releasing his poisonous gas over Turkey, Jordan and Israel.
But if Assad loses his nerve and lets loose with chemical weapons inside or outside Syria, the Americans will come crashing down on him with the full might of the US air, sea and marine forces standing by off the Syrian coast, along with Turkish, Israeli and Jordanian strikes against targets in Syria.
Tuesday Dec. 6, Syrian chemical weapons units positioned near the capital, Damascus were first sighted by military and intelligence personnel heading north on the road to Aleppo armed with shells loaded with nerve agents – sarin and possibly XV. Three days later, the movements continued to destinations unknown.
Intelligence experts are speculating that these convoys may be decoys for distracting attention from still- undiscovered poison gas caches. Large-scale Western naval and marines forces are therefore on elevated readiness for responding to any unexpected Syrian moves.
Those experts offer two theories about the destination of the chemicals weapons. One is that they are not destined for any of the battle fronts against the rebels, but for the Alawite Mountains; Assad is getting ready to retreat from Damascus and barricade himself in his mountain stronghold accompanied by the forces still loyal to him. Another theory is that from the Allawite Mts. near the coast, the Syrian ruler was planning to hit American and Turkish soldiers with chemical weapons as they came ashore.