Syria hiding chemical weapons, says Israeli intel

Information matches concerns from US, UK, and France that the Assad regime is squirreling away stockpiles as deterrent against rebels

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Two women and a young girl are treated by a medic in a rebel-held village in Hama province some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Damascus, April 18, 2014.  (photo credit: AP/Shaam News Network)
Two women and a young girl are treated by a medic in a rebel-held village in Hama province some 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Damascus, April 18, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Shaam News Network)

Israeli intelligence sources believe the Syrian regime is hiding some chemical weapons in order to beat an agreement it signed to dispose of its poison gas arsenal, an Israeli daily reported Wednesday.

Despite Damascus having disposed of 92 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, recent information indicates that government of President Bashar Assad is seeking to maintain a limited chemical capability as a deterrent against rebel forces, Haaretz reported on Wednesday.

The Israeli assessment matches those of intelligence officials in the United States, the United Kingdom, and France who also suspect that Syria is not being completely transparent about its weapons stockpiles.

The unsourced report said the Israeli defense community did not expect Assad to use the weapons to target Israel.

At the beginning of the year the Israeli government halted the distribution of gas masks to the public after it estimated that the threat of a chemical assault from Syria was minimal. Despite the evidence that Syria is holding on to some of its weapons, Jerusalem has no intention of reopening the gas mask distribution program, the report said.

The Haaretz report also noted that Israeli intelligence has altered its opinion on Assad’s chances of maintaining power. Whereas two year ago the expectation was that he would soon be toppled, now he is seen as having a more stable position after having pushed back rebel forces in some areas with aid from Iran and Russia.

Last week a senior Western diplomat told Reuters that Syria was keeping back some of its weapons.

“We have some intelligence showing that they have not declared everything,” the unnamed official said and added that a “substantial” part of the chemical weapons program was being secreted.

In November 2013, US intelligence sources indicated that the Assad regime may try to hide some of its nerve agents rather than remove them as agreed.

According to the OPCW, the international body overseeing the destruction of the weapons, Syria’s government has disposed of more than 92 percent of its total chemical weapons stockpile.

The international community aims to remove and destroy 1,300 metric tons of chemicals Syria stockpiled to turn into poison gas and nerve agents.

The effort was sparked by an August 2013 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of people. The attacks were blamed on Assad’s government and brought the United States to the brink of military intervention in Syria. Damascus denied involvement but in September of that year agreed to give up its stockpile to be neutralized by international authorities.

Syria has missed several deadlines for progress specified in last year’s agreed timetable to eradicate its poison gas and nerve agent program by June 30. It insists it will meet the final deadline.

In recent weeks, activists have accused government forces of attacking rebel-held areas with poisonous chlorine gas, according to Associated Press interviews with more than a dozen activists, medics and residents on the opposition side.

Syria denies the allegations, and they haven’t been confirmed by any international organization.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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