Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Danger of Winning in Syria Getting Rid of Assad Might Be Worse Than Having Him Stay

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

The Danger of Winning in Syria Getting Rid of Assad Might Be Worse Than Having Him Stay

Article excerpt

Syrian dictator Bashar Assad fled Damascus last week after three senior officials were killed by a suicide bomber. He's reportedly holed up in the coastal city of Latakiat. Whether Mr. Assad is driven from power depends mostly on what he's willing to do to keep it.

Syria will use weapons of mass destruction if attacked by foreigners, the foreign ministry declared Monday. Satellite photos indicate the regime has been removing chemical munitions from storage sites, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported May 30.

The regime would never use these weapons against its own people, said a foreign ministry spokesman. But a former official told the BBC Mr. Assad wouldn't hesitate to use WMD against the rebels.

Mr. Assad is an Alawite, an offshoot of Shia Islam. Alawites make up just 10 percent to 12 percent of Syrians (70 percent are Sunni Muslims), but hold almost all the important jobs. So most Alawites, not just Mr. Assad, must keep riding the tiger, or be consumed by it.

In 1982, Mr. Assad's father massacred at least 10,000 Sunni Islamist rebels in the city of Hama. Islamists have been looking for payback ever since. If dad was so ruthless then, why wouldn't junior be as ruthless now? The 19,000 dead so far may be just a down payment on the ultimate butcher's bill.

What happens to Syria's WMD if Mr. Assad is ousted?

He could turn them over to Hezbollah, the Iranian-sponsored terror group that dominates Lebanon. That would be bad for the United States and very bad for Israel, which says it will strike if it happens. If the rebels capture the WMD, it could be worse, because Islamists aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaida are prominent among them.

Syria has hundreds of tons of chemical munitions, has weaponized infectious diseases and had a nuclear weapons program until the Israelis bombed it in 2008.

Most dangerous in the hands of terrorists are biological weapons. Small amounts kill many. Because infectious diseases spread, they go on killing, far from the site of the attack.

Chemical weapons aren't of much use to terrorists. The exception is VX nerve gas, which can contaminate a site for weeks.

The Syrian conflict has intensified Muslim sectarian strife. …

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