Syria's Chemical Secret: Israel Raises Alarm

Hundreds of tonnes of Syria's stockpile of deadly nerve gas could fall into the hands of terrorist groups if the regime of Bashar al Assad falls apart amid widening concerns that Israel could go to war to try to stop this 'Doomsday threat'.

According to Middle Eastern and other intelligence sources, Syria has the biggest stockpiles of the nerve gasses VX and Sarin, as well as mustard gas, in the Middle East.

Investigations by Sky News have identified four sites where the agents are produced: Hama, Latakia, Al Safira, near Aleppo and at the Centre D'Etude et Recherche Scientifique laboratories in Damascus.

Storage sites have also been found at Khan abu Shamat, Furqlus, Hama, Masyaf, Palmyra.

Biological weapons are believed to be stored at Cerin while there are also numerous 'dual use' civilian pharmaceutical laboratories which are capable of producing bio-weapons such as botulism and anthrax.

Al Qaeda-related groups are known to be operating inside Syria. Its leadership has frequently extolled members or followers to try to get hold of chemical weapons.

Much of the fighting in Syria's civil war has centred on Hama, Latakia, and in the suburbs of the capital - making the storage and production sites of chemical weapons vulnerable to being overrun by rebels.

The deadly chemical weapons have been successfully 'weaponised'. This means that conventional artillery and missile warheads have been fitted with delivery systems for VX gas. These include Scud B, C and D missiles.

These rockets are capable of hitting any location inside Israel and, Sky sources said, they are capable of spreading VX gas in bomblets similar to those seen in cluster munitions.

Syria has backed the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah for decades. In 2006, Israel launched a bloody invasion of Lebanon in response to Hezbollah rocket attacks.

Today, intelligence sources say that they conservatively estimate that Hezbollah has a stockpile of more than 40,000 new missiles.

Israel is deeply concerned that Assad may deliberately give Hezbollah chemical weapons - or that they could end up in the hands of other terror groups. In either case, this could lead to a regional war, Danny Yatom, the former head of Mossad warned.

"The conventional wisdom should be that we cannot exclude a non-conventional attack on Israel. We would have to pre-empt in order to prevent it. We need to be prepared to launch even military attacks... and military attacks mean maybe a deterioration to war," he told Sky News.

Yatom is part of Israel's security establishment, but not part of the administration. Usually vocal on any issue perceived to be a threat to Israel, recently, officials have been publically muted on Assad's Syria.

This is mainly because while Assad is a sworn enemy of Israel, which occupies the Syrian Golan Heights, he has headed a stable regime.

There are widespread fears that a Gaddafi-style collapse of Syria into chaos, would mean that chemical weapons would spread around the globe.

The weaponisation means they can be moved easily and Sky sources in the region said that the Assad regime had dispersed the weapons to "dozens of different sites and into perpetually mobile columns".

Major general Yair Naveh, the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli Defence Force, recently warned a private congregation at a Jerusalem synagogue that Syria's chemical weapons posed a mortal threat to the Jewish State.

"As for Syria, we all hear the news ... (if) Syrians ... behave this way to their people it is clear ... how they will behave towards us - to our sons - when they get the opportunity against us, with the largest chemical weapons arsenal in the world, with missiles and rockets that cover all of Israel".

Western leaders have been criticised for their 'failure' to intervene in Syria with a no-fly zone and the sort of campaign which helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in Libya last year.

Syria, with 100,000 men dedicated to its air force and air defence forces, has built up a formidable ability to keep enemy aircraft out of its territory in recent years.

In May, 12,000 special forces commandos spent almost a month training for the sort of scenario now presented by Syria.

But a Pentagon study suggested that 75,000 troops would be needed to secure Assad's chemical weapons arsenal. There seems little prospect of the US committing that kind of force, given tensions with Iran over its nuclear weapons programme.

"The truth is that no one has much of a clue what to do about Syria - it's too well defended and too full of weapons of mass destruction to mean that there can be any meaningful military intervention. The Syrians may be doomed if Assad stays, and lots of others if he falls," said one senior intelligence official in the region.

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