The chemical weapons arsenal in the hands of the Bashar Assad regime, believed to be one of the largest in the world, is a match for Israel’s alleged stockpile of nuclear weapons, a Syrian general who defected to the West earlier this year said Monday.
Major-General Adnan Sillu, who was reportedly participating in “top-level” talks about the use of chemical weapons on civilians and insurgents, told Al Arabiya that the Syrian government had stashed chemical weapons in various cities, specifically in Homs and Aleppo.
“Syria’s chemical arsenal has reached similar levels to Israel’s nuclear weapons,” he said in an interview to the Saudi-owned website.
Sillu, who was reportedly charged with overseeing Syria’s chemical weapons training program, in June warned that the central storage sites for sarin and mustard gas could easily be captured by rebel forces, despite being guarded by thousands of Syrian Army troops.
“Probably anyone from the Free Syrian Army or any Islamic extremist group could take them over,” he was quoted as saying.
The Syrian government has been careful to never actually confirm it possesses chemical weapons.
According to foreign reports, Israel possesses hundreds of nuclear warheads, as well as the ballistic missile technology to deliver them and a “second-strike” capability in the form of atomic-tipped cruise missiles.
More than 40,000 people have died during Assad’s two-year crackdown on rebels, according to activists. Opposition fighters have seized large swaths of territory in northern Syria along the border with Turkey and appear to be expanding their control outside Damascus, pushing the fight closer to Assad’s seat of power in the capital.
As Assad has come under greater pressure, he has steadily escalated his methods for fighting insurgents. US officials said the Syrian regime launched more than a half-dozen Scud missiles in recent days. It’s the first time the Assad government has used such weapons.
Recent US intelligence reports showed the Syrian regime may be readying its chemical weapons and could be desperate enough to use them. Those reports drew a sharp warning from US President Barack Obama, but administration officials said the intelligence fell short of the president’s threshold for more direct US intervention in the conflict.
UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told reporters after briefing the Security Council on Monday that the UN is sending in kits to protect soldiers in the UN peacekeeping force on Syria’s border with Israel from the effects of a possible chemical attack.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.