The Wall Street Journal reports: In May of last year, a small team of international weapons inspectors gained entry to one of Syria’s most closely guarded laboratories. Western nations had long suspected that the Damascus facility was being used to develop chemical weapons.
Inside, Syrian scientists showed them rooms with test tubes, Bunsen burners and desktop computers, according to inspectors. The Syrians gave a PowerPoint presentation detailing the medical and agricultural research they said went on there. A Syrian general insisted that the Assad regime had nothing to hide.
As the international inspectors suspected back then, it was a ruse, part of a chain of misrepresentations by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to hide the extent of its chemical-weapons work. One year after the West celebrated the removal of Syria’s arsenal as a foreign-policy success, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the regime didn’t give up all of the chemical weapons it was supposed to.
An examination of last year’s international effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons, based on interviews with many of the inspectors and U.S. and European officials who were involved, shows the extent to which the Syrian regime controlled where inspectors went, what they saw and, in turn, what they accomplished. That happened in large part because of the ground rules under which the inspectors were allowed into the country, according to the inspectors and officials.
The West was unable, for example, to prevent Mr. Assad from continuing to operate weapons-research facilities, including the one in Damascus visited by inspectors, making it easier for the regime to develop a new type of chemical munition using chlorine. And the regime never had to account for the types of short-range rockets that United Nations investigators believe were used in an Aug. 21, 2013, sarin gas attack that killed some 1,400 people, these officials say.
Obama administration officials have voiced alarm this year about reports that Mr. Assad is using the chlorine weapons on his own people. And U.S. intelligence now suggests he hid caches of even deadlier nerve agents, and that he may be prepared to use them if government strongholds are threatened by Islamist fighters, according to officials familiar with the intelligence. If the regime collapses outright, such chemical-weapons could fall into the hands of Islamic State, or another terror group. [Continue reading…]