Huffpost WorldPost
Firas Al-Atraqchi Headshot

Assad Regime's Final WMD Gambit Plays to Israel, U.S. Fears

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Syria is on the verge of implosion as the military dictatorship put together by the late Hafez al Assad struggles to deal with defections, emboldened rebels, and blow-delivering assassinations of senior officials.

Last week when rebels infiltrated the capital, surprising both the military and the residents living there, many analysts predicted that the Assad regime's downfall was imminent.

But unlike its neighbor Iraq, which destroyed one of the world's largest stockpile of chemical weapons under UN supervision in the 1990s, Syria has maintained its WMD program far from the prying eyes of international inspectors.

And this is the ace in the hole the Assad regime, or rather the military dictatorship which rules the country, hopes will prevent its complete demise.

When Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi warned that his government would not use chemical weapons against its own people but rather against "foreign aggressors" he was covertly appealing to the U.S., Israel and Russia to prevent the regime's downfall.

Or at the very least guarantee an exit strategy for the ruling military cadre. Otherwise, Makdissi is really warning, these weapons would fall into the hands of what Damascus has labelled extremists.

To the Israelis, a nightmare scenario presents itself if Hezbollah is able to get even a trickle of these WMDs. From Washington's perspective, the decade-old specter of al Qaeda gaining access to WMDs is something to avoid at all costs.

Dozens of al Qaeda fighters, formerly wreaking havoc in Iraq, have in the past year been filtering into Syria, according to reports which first appeared in The Christian Science Monitor earlier this year.

If they were to get their hands on these weapons they could possibly use them in Iraq, bringing down the government there and plunging both countries into perpetual civil war.

Israel seems to have understood the predicament facing the region. Several defense officials have added their voice to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's concern that they are aware that the Syrian government is currently in control of the WMD stockpile but fear chaos following the regime's ouster could deliver these weapons to extremists.

Both the U.S. and Israel are wary that an air or special forces raid on the WMD facilities could further increase tensions in the region, if not usher in a limited regional confrontation.

But will this gambit save the regime? Unlikely, in its current form. But it does increase capital for the military dictatorship, possibly opening channels between senior generals and Israel or the U.S. to secure -- or destroy -- the WMDs in the event of Assad's departure.

On the other hand, the U.S. could use its Persian Gulf proxies to pressure the mostly Sunni rebels in Syria to prevent the WMDs from being captured by Hezbollah.