The Strategic Risks of Inaction on Syria’s Chemical Weapons

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Bottom Line: Syria’s chemical weapons program not only contributes to a tragic humanitarian situation, but its uninhibited use and maintenance creates strategic implications for the West and Israel. Limited military response seeking to degrade Syria’s stockpiles and logistical facilities sends a message, but Assad has shown his intent to continue developing, storing and using these capabilities. Should Syria – backed by Iran and Russia – continue to harbor chemical weapons, it could become the staging ground for the proliferation of such weapons to Hezbollah and others in the future.

Background: The origins of Syria’s strategic pursuit of chemical weapons is in its joint preparation with Egypt for the October 1973 offensive against Israel, receiving from Egypt artillery shells and aerial bombs equipped with sarin nerve agent and mustard blistering agent. Following the March 1979 Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel, Syria sought to develop its own indigenous chemical warfare program, operationalizing it in the 1980s by acquiring dual-use precursor agents sourced from Western European companies primarily in Germany and France.

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