Joshua Landis writes: Assad is unlikely to use chemical weapons at this time. He must know that as soon as he uses them, he will have written his death warrant. I do not think he is suicidal or about to pursue a “Samson option” as some have suggested.
The Alawite community of 2.5 million that lives in the coastal region of Syria is counting on his army to protect them from possible retribution from the rebel militias. Sectarian hatred has been driven to a high pitch by the brutality of the regime. Syrians have been putting hate in their hearts over the last two years, making the likelihood of some sort of retribution ever more likely and the ethnic cleansing a possibility, even if a small one at this time. Assad and his generals will want to protect their families who live along the Mediterranean coast.
Should Damascus become ungovernable, as I believe it eventually will — although that may be a long time from now — he will have to fall back with his army to the coastal region. Then he will have his back to the wall and the likelihood of his using chemical weapons goes way up. He would most likely threaten to use them should rebel militias begin pushing into the Alawite Mountains or attack the coastal cities. He will want to keep them as a deterrent.
The Chemical weapons scare now going on may be overblown. Speaking to a general at Central Command in Tampa yesterday, I was reminded that chemical weapons are difficult to arm and use. Sarin was used by Saddam in Halabcha, where bombs were dropped by planes, which means that Assad could do the same because he has an airforce. But for the rebels to use them effectively would be difficult, without proper missiles or systems to launch projectiles which are difficult to arm.