Israel: Syria Held Back Chemical Munitions

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel believes Syria has retained caches of combat-ready chemical weapons after giving up raw materials used to produce such munitions under pressure from foreign powers, a senior Israeli official said on Thursday.

Summarizing Israeli intelligence estimates that were previously not disclosed to avoid undermining the Syrians’ surrender of their declared chemical arsenal, the official said they had kept some missile warheads, air-dropped bombs and rocket-propelled grenades primed with toxins like sarin “There is, to my mind, still in the hands of Syria a significant residual capability … that could be used in certain circumstances and could be potentially very serious,” the official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

While saying Israel had a “high degree of confidence” in its information, he declined to give figures for chemical weapons allegedly kept by Syria, citing secrecy concerns as well as the possibility some had been destroyed or used by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

“What we are saying is that there are a number of questions here that still have to be clarified, still have to be looked at very closely” by international inspectors, the official said.`

International diplomats told Reuters this week that Syria had revealed a previously undeclared research and development facility and a laboratory to produce the ricin poison.

Those disclosures appeared to support Western assertions in recent months that the Assad regime had not been fully transparent in detailing its chemical weapons programme.

The Israeli official said the 1,300 tons of mustard gas and precursors for sarin and VX surrendered by Syria largely matched Israeli assessments of its total stockpile of such materials. The shelf-life of any deployable munitions held back was limited given the chemicals’ deterioration, he added.

Those assessments appear to contribute to overall Israeli relief at the Syrian chemical disarmament, even if Assad has reneged in part.

When asked about the possibility that Islamic State terrorists in Syria and Iraq might get hold of Assad’s remaining chemical weapons, he said Israel had no indication that this had happened, indicating Israeli intelligence knew where Assad’s remaining chemical arms were kept and that these sites were still safe — something he declined to confirm or deny directly.

“I haven’t seen any information that they (Islamic State) have received them. I would not be surprised if they are interested, though, in receiving them,” he said.

While using higher-yield munitions like air-dropped bombs might be beyond the insurgents, they could easily launch attacks with “a bunch of grenades with sarin” if this became available, the official added..