Where did Syria get chemical weapons? How big is its stockpile?
Those questions are more crucial than ever in the wake of reports
that the US now believes President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime
has used the chemical agent sarin against civilians on a small
After all, Syria remains one of only six countries that have not
ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which outlaws production,
storage, and use of poison gas. In 2012, Syrian officials
acknowledged that they possessed such weapons and threatened to use
them in the event of "foreign intervention" in Syria's ongoing
conflict with domestic opposition forces.
Overall, Syria is believed to have "hundreds of tons of mustard
gas, blister agents, and nerve agents, which could include sarin and
the agent VX," concludes an Arms Control Association summary of
Syria's unconventional weaponry.
The roots of Syria's chemical weapons program lie decades in the
past. Over the years, US intelligence experts have gone back and
forth as to exactly when the effort began, but it is likely Syria
began the effort decades ago, and possibly as early as the 1970s.
"Damascus probably developed its chemical weapons program in
response to a perceived threat from Israel," concludes a 2012
Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysis of the subject, citing
US intelligence reports.
Some analysts believe that Egypt provided Syria with chemical
weapons on the eve of the October 1973 Yom Kippur war. There are
reports that Israeli troops captured stockpiles of gas munitions
during the conflict but Syria apparently decided not to use them in
spite of its eventual defeat.
In 1979, Egypt's peace treaty with Israel fractured already-weak
Arab unity in the region. Syrian-Turkish relations deteriorated due
to conflicts over water rights, among other things. Syria's then-
patron the USSR decided to support theocratic Iran, secular Syria's
adversary, in the Iran-Iraq War.
"The combination of increasing political isolation and observed
military deficiencies vis-a-vis Israel together provided incentives
for Syria to develop a self-sufficient CW capability," concludes a
Syrian country report from the nonprofit Nuclear Threat Initiative.
As to the technology of Syria's chemical weaponry, it's likely
the Soviet Union added more advanced equipment to the small Egyptian
stockpile during the late 1970s and 1980s. Declassified US documents
hold that the USSR provided Damascus with training, delivery
systems, and chemical agents themselves, according to CRS
nonproliferation experts Mary Beth Nikitin, Andrew Feickert, and
Paul Kerr. …