Thursday, December 06, 2012


Is Assad contemplating a murder-suicide pact?

News of something happening around Syria's chemical weapons depots has the West worried that Assad might use chemical weapons on his people. We have warned Assad not to use them:

As U.S. officials raise the alarm about perceived Syrian government preparations to use chemical weapons in the country’s civil war, some analysts see those weapons playing other roles in the conflict.

They say the United States and its allies also are weighing several options and risks in planning their response to the threat of chemical warfare in Syria.

The threat appeared to grow Monday as U.S. officials said intelligence sources detected moves by Syrian authorities to combine the components of the nerve agent sarin.

I doubt that Assad could restore his advantage with chemical weapons use without provoking foreign intervention against the Assad government. And this news seems to indicate that Assad would use chemical weapons in the least effective way with the most likelihood of provoking foreign intervention:

The Syrian regime has loaded the precursor chemicals for the nerve gas sarin into aerial bombs, according to a report from the United States.

Aerial bombs? Really? When we already know that Assad's sortie rate is low because he doesn't have enough pilots willing to bomb civilians with conventional munitions?

Aerial bombs rather than artillery shells, tactical rockets, or short-range ballistic missiles? When a no-fly zone is the easiest way for the West to intervene in Syria, Assad will choose the method of employment that would be the easiest for the West to stop?

This just doesn't make sense to me.

But as I've often said, it doesn't have to make sense to me to make sense to Assad.

Perhaps Assad believes it is safer to have bombs either secured on a base, on a plane, or detonated on a target; when the alternative is to have chemical rounds moving about the country with artillery units where they are vulnerable to rebel attack before they can be fired.

Perhaps Assad believes any use of chemical weapons by any means will prompt Western intervention, so the perils of using artillery units outweighs the risk of using planes.

Perhaps, despite the low sortie rate of his air force which means massive use of chemical weapons can't be done from the air, Assad believes a single day of chemical attacks by air will break the will of the people to resist him, so there is no threat of Western intervention because Assad will then win the war quickly.

Perhaps Assad believes the West will intervene eventually and so he'd best win now, to win before the West intervenes.

Heck, even a murder-suicide pact can make sense to the people involved. Right? Ugly things can happen without making any sense at all.

UPDATE: Syria continues to deny they will use chemical weapons on their own people--if they even have them:

Western powers are whipping up fears of a fateful move to the use of chemical weapons in Syria's civil war as a "pretext for intervention", President Bashar al-Assad's deputy foreign minister said on Thursday. ...

"Syria stresses again, for the tenth, the hundredth time, that if we had such weapons, they would not be used against its people. We would not commit suicide," Faisal Maqdad said.

That's always possible. I tend to think that we are simply worried that any activity around Syrian chemical depots is potentially dangerous. It is even possible that we want to make the NATO decision to deploy Patriot anti-aircraft missiles to Turkey more defensible.

But at the end of the day, Assad hasn't explained why he's mucking around with those weapons. I mean, if he has them.