The U.N. General Assembly on Friday demanded that Syria maintain security around its biological and chemical weapons and condemned the Assad regime's ongoing attacks against its opponents, the Associated Press reported (see GSN, Aug. 2).
The legally nonbinding measure passed by a wide margin with 133 nations in favor, 12 against, and 31 countries not voting. The resolution is intended to prod the U.N. Security Council, which has authority to pass sanctions and authorize the use of outside military force, into passing more forceful measures against Damascus.
The Security Council has been prevented on multiple occasions from demanding Syrian dictator Bashar Assad cede power due to opposition by veto-holders China and Russia.
"The acts of brutality that are being reported may constitute crimes against humanity or war crimes," U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, speaking to diplomats ahead of the decision, said of the battle for the city of Aleppo. "Such acts must be investigated and the perpetrators held to account."
The General Assembly measure says "the first step in the cessation of violence has to be made by the Syrian authorities" (Peter Spielmann, Associated Press/Yahoo!News, Aug. 3).
Meanwhile, a retired Syrian general formerly in charge of the regime's chemical weapon operations said he has been interviewed by Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials about the whereabouts of the arsenals as well as whether he believed Assad would be likely to order their use, the London Guardian reported on Friday.
Regime defector Adnan Silou said he told intelligence officials that while the chemical warfare materials were well protected, Damascus would probably use them if it felt it had no other option to maintaining power.
Silou left his position as head of the chemical weapons division in 2008 but said he continued to advise military officials after his retirement and had even examined a chemical depot 10 days prior to leaving for Turkey two months ago.
"Every one of the stockpiles was intact, although it appeared that some had been moved," Silou told the British newspaper. "They are heavily protected."
The country's primary chemical stockpiles are located about six miles to the south of Homs and roughly six miles to the east of the nation's capital, according to the former general. "All of these things I told the Americans and the Turks when they took me to Ankara. I told them only the president could give the order to weaponize them. It would have to be Assad" (Martin Chulov Antakya, London Guardian, Aug. 3).
The United States and other countries are worried that should security around the chemical weapons be weakened, regional extremist groups might attempt to seize some of the munitions and agents for use in terrorist attacks.
Defense experts, however, say that nonstate actors lacking specialized training in chemical warfare could have a hard time using the munitions, United Press International reported on Thursday.
"It is important to recognize that there are a number of technical and practical considerations that will limit the impact of these weapons even if a militant group were able to obtain them," said Scott Stewart, an expert for the Stratfor intelligence analysis firm.
Experts assessments that play down the threat of a chemical terrorist attack contrast with the urgent warnings issued by top Israeli and U.S. officials. This raises the question of whether officials are attempting to build a case for a foreign intervention in Syria, according to UPI.
Hezbollah, with its vast network in Lebanon, is seen as the nonstate actor with the greatest likelihood of successfully obtaining and utilizing chemical weapons. The organization is said to possess tens of thousands of rockets and missiles -- most obtained from Iran and the Assad regime. The Syrian military is rumored to have schooled Hezbollah fighters on how to prepare chemical agent or biological agent-filled bombs for delivery in attacks.
Stewart pointed out, though, that "even if Hezbollah were to receive a stockpile of chemical munitions from Syria, or Libya, it has a great deal to lose by employing such munitions."
The Shiite organization would have to contend with major reprisal attacks by the Israeli military, the Stratfor expert said. "While Israel was somewhat constrained in its attacks on Hezbollah's leadership and infrastructure in the 2006 war, it's unlikely to be nearly as constrained in responding to a chemical attack on its armed forces or a population center."
Were Israel to come under attack by such weapons of mass destruction, the small country would be viewed by the international community as being justified to respond with widespread deadly force, Stewart told UPI.
"Hezbollah would face international repercussions over such an attack," he continued. "As an organization, Hezbollah has been working for many years to establish itself as a legitimate political party in Lebanon and avoid being labeled as a terrorist organization in Europe and elsewhere. A chemical weapon attack would bring heavy international condemnation and would not be in the group's best interest at this time" (United Press International, Aug. 2).
Separately, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta held talks on Thursday with Jordan's ruler, King Abdullah, that included discussions about protecting Syria's chemical weapons, the New York Times reported (Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, Aug. 2).
The U.N. General Assembly on Friday demanded that Syria maintain security around its biological and chemical weapons and condemned the Assad regime's ongoing attacks against its opponents, the Associated Press reported.