Syria: ‘Chemical weapons sites’ and ‘rebel-held territory’

I get the sense that for some people, a belief that the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21 was carried out by rebels, has some of the elements of religious conviction. Faith can be sustained by the smallest of infrequent ‘signs’ — such a sign appeared in a New York Times report on Tuesday.

A Western diplomat in the Arab world said that though the Syrian government was legally responsible for dismantling its chemical weapons under an international agreement, its opponents should also cooperate in the process, because several chemical weapons sites were close to confrontation lines or within rebel-held territory.

Emptywheel reads this as “the clearest indication yet that it isn’t just access routes to chemical weapons sites that the rebels control, but that the rebels control some of the sites themselves.”

Not so fast. Firstly, given the short shelf-life of armed chemical weapons, we shouldn’t assume that a chemical weapons site necessarily contains any chemical weapons. It may only contain the materials necessary for assembling such weapons. Moreover, there’s a big difference between having access to such a site and having the knowledge to make use of what it contains.

Secondly — and just as important — chemical weapons sites “within rebel-held territory” does not necessarily imply chemical weapons sites under rebel control. Since the Assad regime retains control of all of Syrian air space, even where rebels might have closed off land routes to a particular site, it may still remain under government control and still be receiving supplies by air.

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One thought on “Syria: ‘Chemical weapons sites’ and ‘rebel-held territory’

  1. Matthew Grantham

    I agree they are fast to come to swift judgments which may not be entirely justified. There is a lot of guesswork involved here which comes with a hefty price tag. Caution is needed and clear evidence before serious action is taken. A sensitive situation indeed.

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