Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

April 30, 2014

Renewed use of chemical weapons in Syria challenges inaction

Filed under: International HLS,Radicalization,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on April 30, 2014

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE:  Today the U.S. Department of State submitted its annual Country Reports on Terrorism to Congress.  The Strategic Assessment includes:

Some of the thousands of fighters from around the world who are traveling to Syria to do battle against the Asad regime – particularly from the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, and Eastern and Western Europe – are joining violent extremist groups, including al-Nusrah Front and ISIL. A number of key partner governments are becoming increasingly concerned that individuals with violent extremist ties and battlefield experience will return to their home countries or elsewhere to commit terrorist acts. The scale of this problem has raised a concern about the creation of a new generation of globally-committed terrorists, similar to what resulted from the influx of violent extremists to Afghanistan in the 1980s.

— +–


Late Tuesday evening Greenwich Mean Time, The Telegraph, a leading British newspaper, published an exclusive story claiming to prove Syria has continued to use chemical weapons.

According to The Telegraph’s report,”…soil samples from the scene of three recent attacks in the country were collected by trained individuals known to this news organisation and analysed by a chemical warfare expert. Our results show sizeable and unambiguous traces of chlorine and ammonia present at the site of all three attacks.”

Just last week President Obama said, “Eighty-seven percent of Syria’s chemical weapons have already been removed.”  The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has been working under an international agreement to relocate and destroy the Syrian stockpile.

The chlorine and ammonia assets allegedly used in recent weeks were not part of the chemical weapons inventory which the OPCW has been working to remove.  There is informed speculation that industrial chemicals have been crudely repurposed to replace the more sophisticated chemicals (including sarin and mustard) that have been removed.

Late last summer and into the autumn, the United States was dissuaded from military operations against Syrian chemical stockpiles when Russia brokered a “last-minute” deal to remove the weapons from Syria.  The decision by the US to not undertake military action disappointed the Saudis, surprised the French (who were prepared to join in the action), and precipitated a months-long reversal of progress achieved by the Syrian opposition.

As evidence accumulates of recent use of chemical weapons, there will be renewed pressure for US military intervention against the Assad regime.  For example, The Telegraph’s Defense Editor comments the new findings, “must serve as a wake up call to the West that it can no longer ignore a brutal conflict that has so far cost an estimated 150,000 lives.”

The Syrian Civil War is also a violent flash-point in Sunni-Shia antipathy, a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and a training ground for a new generation of international terrorists.

Whatever we do — or decide not to do — will have homeland security consequences.

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Comment by Alan Wolfe

April 30, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

A few comments:

First the Telegraph article – it’s not helpful to describe the use of industrial chlorine tanks as “canisters marked with their chemical contents” and they are certainly not the same thing as, or even adequate substitutes for, chemical weapons. One ought to discriminate between the planned and deliberate use of chemical weapons (sarin, mustard AGENT – not a gas) from the improvised use of industrial chemicals. There’s no clear evidence that this was a sanctioned use of chemical hazards as a result of Syria’s turning in their chemical weapons.

Secondly, let’s remember that 99% of the casualties to date in the Syrian civil war were not caused by chemical weapons or improvised chemical devices. To make these calls for US military intervention because of a few thousand deaths, in light of the 150,000 killed by conventional munitions, is just idealistic nonsense. If you’re going to make the case for interfering with another nation’s internal affairs, their use of CW in this context isn’t compelling.

Last, I agree that whatever the US govt does in Syria – and it matters what the rationale is – there will be an impact on homeland security. But it’s not as if this is a new thing (radical Islamic extremists). The key is and continues to be the ability to sustain an affordable level of security that does not overly impact the public’s freedoms, proportional to the anticipated threat. I submit that the Syrian use of CW does not drastically change the dynamic here at home.

I am not enamored with the DHS approach to chemical anti-terrorism standards, but at the least, we do need to consider the impact of small, single-scale use of chemical weapons as a separate issue from the possible inadvertent or deliberate use of chemical industrial hazards. They require different approaches.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

April 30, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

Alan: Thanks. I was being sloppy regarding mustard agents. I have corrected on the front page. Here’s more complete information: https://www.opcw.org/about-chemical-weapons/types-of-chemical-agent/mustard-agents/

It is not my argument, but I will note that some who would not otherwise advocate involvement in a civil war perceive it is an important bit of strategic deterrence to be more proactive regarding use of chemical weapons.

In response to The Telegraph story, the British Foreign Secretary has said, “The international community must be ready to hold anyone found to have used chemical weapons fully accountable for their crimes.”

I will also mention that my motivation for posting on this topic was 1) opportunistic, given The Telegraph’s breaking news and 2) about six weeks ago I was in a non-public meeting with a leading US law enforcement officer who admitted not giving any prior thought to Syria as a terrorist training ground.

Comment by Alan Wolfe

April 30, 2014 @ 4:30 pm

Of course you are right about “others” who wish to use the Syria case as a deterrent example, and they’re wrong. It’s war, until they successfully outlaw war, nations will think up new ways to kill people. Didn’t mean to attribute to you.

But it’s a good topic, glad you raised it.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

May 1, 2014 @ 8:38 am


Controlled by its Shiite masters – the “Brutes of Tehran” nothing more than thugs, Hezbollah in following orders to get involved in Syria has certainly weakened it political assertiveness in Lebanon – yes, Lebanon who we must call keep a weary eye as the Sunni Arab/Saudi populace has already increased its power in Lebanon at Iran’s expense and Hezbollah’s refusal to to end its role in this bloody Syrian conflict has seen a lessening of Lebanon’s populace supporting the Hezbollah foretelling the dramatic shift as Saudi Arabia gains more and more of a foothold in Lebanon!

With the divisive tyrant occupying the executive chamber of the WH and nothing more than a Chicago city street organizer who is so -perverse in his personal and political views and has little knowledge of foreign policy and not only Tehran and Saudi Arabia as well as others including Berlin seeing the US void of any leadership…any real foreign policy w/many Saudi officials unofficially expressing their inquiry as to how the US populace allows Barry Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry to circumvent the Constitution so and to compromise the US which will soon lose its status as the largest economy globally, never mind losing its foots in many other global rankings….

Kindly refer to: Daniel 11:40 — thereafter, the chronology and suggested reading: Psalm 83:4-8!

When we study Syria and its crossing of the line in the sand more often than not knowing full well there are no ramifications for any of its aggressiveness at least by a weak America, all who know this area well understand fully that Lebanon affords a strong Christian population and that matters greatly to the Europeans — By constitutional decree, the president of Lebanon must be a Maronite, a member of the largest Christian populace….

It is this Sunni-Catholic alliance which Lebanese understand will assure that the Lebanese Army will protect them….

Germany has little to say about his take over in Crimea because the Germans know full well that they used America and at their behest, Yugoslavia and the Balkans were conquered and belong to Germany — Put knows this well! Do not underestimate Vladimir Putin!

To China, soon to overcome all and become the most dominant and largest economy globally as barry Obama’s policies continue to lend to the US weakening, iChina will swallow Tehran shortly in a reconciliation will then substantially persuade the other Asian states to support Beijing….

While state colleges and universities and even you with this bogus Affordable Health sham focus on how all must pay for – gender reassignment – and the ever imposing government paralyzes so many, the world is being realigned and War looms head and the ignorance in America abounds….

The coming months will continue to unveil just how much jeopardy this “Chicago-Hollywood-Washington” charade has left the good’ ol US – hold on to your hats for the ride will get much bumpier as the days roll forward!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich, MA 02645

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