VX in Syria; A Vexing Question


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The Telegraph reports, in an article on the fight for the Al-Safirah chemical facility:

The Syrian regime’s chemical warchest is indeed vast – the biggest in the Middle East, and the fourth largest in the world. Started in the 1970s ranks with help from Syria’s Cold War sponsor, Russia, today its programme includes facilities for making mustard gas, sarin and another nerve agent, VX, which stays lethal for much longer after dispersal.

Of course, this is not the first revelation that Assad’s chemical inventory contained VX.  Former Syrian Army Chemical Officer MajGen Adnan Sillou discussed the matter in a December 2012 interview:

He listed mustard gas along with the sarin, VX and tabun nerve agents as the main elements in Syria’s chemical arsenal, whose existence Syria doesn’t even acknowledge.

Despite the anguished cries of the Bush-haters, the question of VX in Syria is a vexing one for the “no chemical weapons in Iraq” crowd.   Only four countries have ever been known to produce VX; Great Britain, where it was discovered/invented, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Iraq.

So, how did VX end up in Basher Al-Assad’s arsenal?  One of two ways, it would seem, or some combination thereof.  It was either provided by what the Telegraph calls Syria’s “Cold War sponsor” (the Soviet Union, not Russia), or it came from Syria’s southeastern neighbor, Saddam’s Iraq.   Or both.

Methinks that the VX stockpiles have MAKSIM‘s fingerprints all over them.  The presence of a KGB General in Iraq in the months leading up to the US invasion cannot plausibly be explained by casting him as an “adviser”.    Primakov had intimate knowledge of Iraq’s chemical capabilties, and would have been in an ideal position to help remove Saddam’s remaining stockpile, along with evidence of Soviet/Russian culpability.

Another alternative is the possibility that the Soviet Union (or Russia post-1991) provided Syria with VX directly.    Were that the case, the likelihood that the Soviets/Russians did the same with Iraq (or provided technical assistance to manufacture) increases dramatically.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Putin’s Russia has remained in the protector role of Assad in Syria, far and above that which would logically attend a regime on such shaky ground internally.   And would explain Primakov’s presence in Iraq in the months leading up to the US invasion.

In either case, those who refuse to acknowledge Syria’s possession of VX, the most lethal of nerve agents, and by far the most difficult to produce, have to do some soul searching.   It might serve them well to search all the way back to 2003.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “VX in Syria; A Vexing Question

  1. People should also consider Saddam’s nuke program as well. BillT had a series of three posts over at the Castle about that. He dealt with the evidence he saw himself that was suppressed by the Bush Admin. It would appear the Israelis dealt with what had been Saddam’s nuke program, which became Assad’s nuke program in 2007.

    It does not surprise me that Syria would have VX from Iraq anymore than the Syrians had a reactor and nuke program imported from Iraq in 2003.

  2. Let the multiple factions in Syria grind each other down.
    Combat has a leveling effect on brave and resourceful individuals. A Syria bled white is a good Syria, reaping a bitter harvest of it’s past policies.

    • Jeff Gauch

      But eventually there will be an equilibrium. Conflict cannot go on forever, eventually the comparative advantages of one faction will become significant and it will start to succeed, which will in turn gather former adversaries under its umbrella, generating a positive feedback. The people will be so desperate for peace that they’ll accept anything to get it.

      We need to have plans in place and assets dedicated to ensuring that equilibrium condition isn’t hostile to us and our interests. Otherwise we’ll be forced to do the same thing to Syria we did to Afghanistan.

    • Jeff, agree, but … There is nothing, repeat, nothing the current USA government can do to make the next Syrian regime acceptable to our interests. Whoever wins will hate us, no matter what we do.

      Deterrence can work, but we have shown that the US is not serious about deterring implacable Islamic populaces.

      Our best hope is that the equilibrium point is farther down the slope of Syrian power.

    • Jeff Gauch

      I agree that the ship has sailed on any of the current adversaries becoming acceptable, but that doesn’t preclude some future group from arising that we wouldn’t mind running the show, and I think we could have a covert role in creating one of those. My sense of irony loves the idea of a pro-western Lebanese group that pushes in and exercises political control of at least the areas of major population.

      Regardless, the time to prepare is now.