Ankara: WMD use would escalate Syria crisis

Turkey said on Friday any use of chemical weapons by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would “take the crisis to another level”, but remained cautious about any foreign military intervention in the conflict on its border.

The White House said on Thursday Assad’s government had probably used chemical arms on a small scale, but that President Barack Obama needed proof before he would act.

“We have been hearing allegations of the use of chemical weapons for quite some time now and these new findings take things to another level. They are very alarming,” Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu said.

“Since the very first reports of chemical weapons being used in Syria emerged we have been asking for a thorough investigation by the United Nations to substantiate these reports. However, the Syrian regime has not allowed this.”

Syria, which has so far denied access to U.N. investigators because of a dispute over their remit, denies firing chemical weapons and accuses anti-Assad rebels of using them.

“This has been done by organisations, including al Qaeda, which threatened to use chemical weapons against Syria. They have carried out their threat near Aleppo. There were victims,”  Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said in Moscow.

“The Syrian army does not have chemical weapons,” Interfax news agency quoted Zoubi as saying.

A once-fervent advocate of foreign intervention in Syria, Turkey has grown increasingly frustrated with the fractured opposition to Assad and with international disunity.

Asked whether Turkey would allow foreign military action in Syria from its soil, Gumrukcu said the facts about chemical weapons usage needed to be substantiated first.

 

“RED LINE”

“Let’s not jump to that right now, let’s have a thorough investigation,” he said, adding any response if the claims were verified would need to be discussed among the “Friends of Syria” grouping of the opposition’s Western, Arab and other allies.

The U.S. disclosure created a quandary for Obama, who has set the use of chemical weapons as a “red line” Assad must not cross. It triggered calls from some hawkish Washington lawmakers for a U.S. military response, which the president has resisted.

Ankara had been pushing for a foreign-protected “safe zone” inside Syria that could serve as a refuge for civilians caught up in the chaos and ease the burden on refugee camps in Turkey, now housing more than a quarter of a million people.

But it has been less vocal in recent months and officials were privately cautious about the latest U.S. disclosure.

“(The) statements are very vague and they themselves do not seem to be very confident of their arguments,” one source close to the Turkish government said.

“Turkey has been voicing some concerns to that end as well but without proof, I don’t think any further steps than the current level of involvement would be made,” the source said.

“Intervention is very risky.”

The European Union also responded cautiously, saying it hoped the United Nations would be able to send its investigating mission to Syria to check for chemical weapons use.

“We are still monitoring this along with our international partners to see what has really happened because it doesn’t seem entirely clear at this point in time,” said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

“We’ve seen that the regime in Syria doesn’t seem to have much respect for human life, but we can’t be definitive on this until we see definitive evidence,” Mann said.

Syria’s neighbors irked by U.S.-led intervention

Syria’s neighbors, wary of stirring a conflict that could spill back over their borders, would be reluctant partners in a U.S.-led intervention but are ultimately likely to support limited military action if widespread use of chemical weapons is proven.

The White House disclosed U.S. intelligence on Thursday that Syria had likely used chemical weapons, a move President Barack Obama had said could trigger unspecified consequences, widely interpreted to include possible U.S. military action.

Syrian neighbors Jordan and Turkey, their support key in any such intervention, have long been vocal critics of Bashar al-Assad. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, an erstwhile ally of the Syrian President, was among the first to call openly for his overthrow while allowing armed opponents to use Turkish soil.

But their rhetoric has been tempered by the changing circumstances of a war that has dragged on beyond their expectations and grown increasingly sectarian, as well as by the suspicion they will be left bearing the consequences of any action orchestrated by Western powers thousands of miles away.

For Turkey’s leaders, facing elections next year, talk of chemical weapons is an uncomfortable reminder of the wave of anti-U.S. sentiment which followed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, justified by intelligence on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons that turned out to be erroneous.

Turkey, which shares a 900-km border with Syria, has reacted cautiously to the U.S. disclosure while Jordan, fearful of the growing influence of radical Islamists in the Syrian rebel ranks, has voiced its preference for a political solution.

“The international community, and especially the peoples of the Middle East, have lost confidence in any report which argues that there are weapons of mass destruction or chemical weapons,” said one source close to the Turkish government.

“Right now, no-one wants to believe them. And if Assad uses chemical weapons some day … I still think Turkey’s primary reaction would be asking for more support to the opposition rather than an intervention.”

Turkey’s rhetoric on Syria, at least in public, has toned down markedly over the past six months, even as shelling and gunfire spilled over the border and the influx of refugees to camps on its territory swelled to a quarter of a million.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s push for a foreign-protected “safe zone” inside Syria gained little traction among allies and appears to have quietly slipped from the agenda. Even Erdogan, whose speeches were regularly laced with bellicose anti-Assad rhetoric, mentions the conflict less frequently.

But many analysts believe both the pro-U.S. monarchy in Jordan and Erdogan’s government in Ankara would toe the line should Washington seek their cooperation in military action.

Turkey’s relations with Washington have at times been prickly – notably in 2003 when it failed to allow the deployment of U.S. forces to Turkey to open a northern front in the Iraq war – but strategic cooperation has generally remained strong.

Turkish support and bases proved vital, for example, to U.S. forces in Afghanistan, while Turkey hosts a U.S.-operated NATO radar system to protect against any regional threat from Iran.

“Given the texture of the current government’s relations with the U.S. and given the history of its discourse on Syria, I think it would be not impossible but rather difficult for Mr Erdogan not to oblige U.S. demands,” said Faruk Logoglu, former Turkish ambassador to Washington and vice chairman of the main opposition Republican People’s Party.

RELUCTANT PARTNERS

Although Obama has warned Syria that using chemical weapons against its own people would cross a “red line”, he has also made clear he is in no rush to intervene on the basis of evidence he said was still preliminary.

Syria denies using chemical weapons in the two-year-old conflict in which more than 70,000 people have been killed.

Mindful of the lessons of the start of the Iraq war, aides have insisted Obama will need all the facts before deciding what steps to take. But acknowledgment of the intelligence assessment appears to have moved the United States closer – at least rhetorically – to some sort of action, military or otherwise.

Turkey and Jordan would be key to any such move, but they may prove reluctant.

From the outset, Turkey has felt slighted.

Before the crisis, Erdogan cultivated a friendship with Assad, personal ties which he tried to use after the start of the uprising in March 2011 to persuade the Syrian leader to embrace reform and open dialogue. He was rebuffed.

When his strategy changed, he began calling for Assad’s removal and allowing the Syrian opposition to organize on Turkish soil. Ankara felt it gained praise from Washington and its allies but little in the way of concrete support.

“Turkey feels lonely in many senses,” the Turkish source said, saying that a military intervention now would leave Turkey and Syria’s other neighbors reeling from the consequences.

“There is always the risk of creating more destruction and creating a failed state in Syria … This thing is happening next door. The flames are reaching us, starting to burn us, where they can’t reach the United States, Qatar, or the UK.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah said last year Assad should step down, but the kingdom is increasingly concerned by the growing strength in Syrian rebel ranks of Islamist fighters who view the monarchy with just as much hostility as they do Assad.

Further fuelling those fears is the presence of fighters from the Nusra Front, which has declared its allegiance to al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri, among rebels who have taken territory across Syria’s southern province of Deraa, only 120 km (75 miles) from the Jordanian capital Amman.

Officials fear Syria has become a magnet for Islamist fighters who could one day turn their guns on Jordan – as Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi did during the sectarian conflict in neighboring Iraq. Zarqawi was widely believed to have been behind simultaneous attacks on Jordanian tourist hotels which killed dozens of people in November 2005.

SENSE OF URGENCY

Such fears could push the U.S. and its allies to act.

“The fact that the opposition is divided cuts both ways. It makes the logistics and even the politics of an intervention more difficult,” said Sinan Ulgen of the Istanbul-based Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).

“But at the same time it reinforces the urgency of an intervention: the more the international community does not intervene in Syria, the more likely it is that the radical elements will gain the upper hand in a post-Assad Syria.”

Turkish officials and diplomats have expressed concern about the role Saudi Arabia may be playing in providing weapons which are going to the hands of radical Islamist elements among the Syrian rebel ranks.

U.S. intelligence agencies believes Assad’s forces may have used the nerve agent sarin on a small scale against rebel fighters. The fear is that an increasingly desperate Assad may use such weapons more widely the longer the conflict drags on.

An attack like that on the Iraqi Kurdish city of Halabja – where an estimated 5,000 people died in a poison gas attack ordered by former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein 25 years ago, the most notorious use of chemical weapons in the Middle East in recent history – could sway public opinion in the region.

“A major chemical attack would outrage the Arab and Muslim street … It would be difficult just to watch, then everyone would intervene,” said retired Jordanian air force general Mamoun Abu Nowar.

The role Turkey or Jordan would play in any military action will depend on Washington’s strategy, but logistical support for limited missile strikes or possible assistance in enforcing the sort of no-fly zone long advocated by Turkey appear more likely than sending in ground troops.

Turkey is home to NATO’s second-largest army and to the Incirlik Air base, which provided logistical support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is already hosting hundreds of U.S. soldiers operating part of a NATO Patriot missile system to defend against possible Syrian attack.

Washington meanwhile announced last week it was sending an army headquarters unit – which could theoretically command combat troops – to Jordan, bolstering efforts started last year to plan for contingencies there as Syria’s conflict deepens.

“A surgical strike to get the stocks of chemical weapons … or establishing air superiority through a number of strikes against Syrian air defenses, this is the type of scenario being contemplated in Turkey,” said EDAM’s Ulgen.

“Anything beyond that is much more difficult to see.”

Patriot Deployment Could Derail $4B Missile Deal

ANKARA — A Turkish move to deploy NATO’s Patriot ground-to-air missiles on its southern border with Syria has antagonized regional rivals Iran and Russia. And defense industry sources say it could obviate the need for the country’s $4 billion competition to build its own anti-missile and air defense architecture.

Turkey officially has asked NATO to deploy Raytheon’s Patriot missile launchers and Lockheed Martin’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, saying that neighboring Syria’s civil war threatens its security.

Military officials from Germany and the Netherlands, owners of the NATO systems, are conducting site surveys to determine possible deployment locations. NATO’s top official, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, has pledged to finish the deal soon.

The request is creating tension in the region. Turkey’s former ally, Syria, and its allies Iran and Russia condemned the move.

The relationship between Turkey and Syria has gone from bad to worse since the uprising to oust Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, began almost two years ago. Damascus has long accused Ankara of harboring, financing and arming rebels fighting to oust Assad. Russia agrees with Syria and is warning that the surface-to-air missiles could lead to a regional crisis.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said: “Any buildup of weapons creates threats and risks. Any provocation can cause a very serious armed conflict. We would like to avoid it by all means. We are perfectly aware of Turkey’s concern over the security on its border.”

Rasmussen sought to reassure Moscow that Turkey’s decision is purely to protect its own territory.

“The Turkish government stressed that the deployment will be defensive only, and that it will in no way support a no-fly zone or any offensive operation,” he said. “The security of the alliance is indivisible. NATO is fully committed to deterring against any threats and defending Turkey’s territorial integrity.”

Analysts agree.

“Turkey has its own reasons to have the systems on its soil. These reasons are political, security-related and also financial,” said Ceyhun Erguven, an analyst based here. “It is normal that a member country requests logistical assistance from NATO because it feels threatened.”

The move could nullify Turkey’s own program to build long-range anti-missile and air defense systems on its soil, industry sources said.

For the estimated $4 billion contract, the pan-European company Eurosam, maker of the Surface-to-Air Missile Platform/Terrain Aster 30 system, is competing with a Raytheon-Lockheed partnership marketing Patriots; Russia’s Rosoboronexport, marketing the S-300 system; and China Precision Machinery Export-Import Corp., offering its HQ-9.

Turkey’s top decision-making body on defense, the Defense Industry Executive Committee, had its most recent meeting in July and said that talks would continue with four key foreign suppliers. The committee’s next meeting is scheduled for late December or early January.

Turkey has no long-range air defense systems. All of the candidate systems, in theory, are capable of hitting an incoming aircraft or missile.

Many Western officials and experts say the Russian and Chinese systems in the Turkish competition are not compatible with NATO systems. The fear is that either country’s potential victory could inadvertently provide it with access to classified NATO information, and as a result, may compromise NATO’s procedures.

Despite this criticism, Turkey so far has resisted dropping the Chinese and Russian options.

Analysts say the deployment of NATO assets on Turkish soil may add to doubts that Turkey needs to independently build an air defense system and spend a huge amount of money.

“The arrival of the Patriot systems, if endorsed by NATO, would already meet Turkey’s requirement of a solid air defense system,” Erguven said. “This may even lead to the cancellation of Turkey’s own contract for a similar system.”

A procurement official familiar with the program said the matter would be thoroughly discussed, with a final decision made at the next meeting of the Defense Industry Executive Committee.

Industry sources say even if Turkey proceeds with its national air defense system contract, procurement officials might feel obliged to shortlist the U.S. and European contenders and drop the Russians and Chinese.

“Turkey and Russia are becoming increasingly hostile as each sides with warring camps in the Syrian crisis,” one senior industry source said. “This minimizes Rosoboronexport’s chances in the contract.

“China also quietly allies with Russia over the Syria war, and its solution for Turkish air defenses is an almost replica of the Russian system. That may oust the Chinese bid from the race, too.”

Three Turks wounded as Syrian jets bomb border

Reuters phoro

One Turkish soldier and two civilians were wounded today during clashes at the Syrian border, daily Hurriyet reported.

A Syrian fighter jet today bombed an area near the Turkish border, causing several casualties, officials and witnesses said, The Associated Press reported.

An Associated Press video journalist saw the plane bomb an area around the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn, some 10 meters from the Turkish border.

Last week the rebels overran three security compounds in the town, located in the predominantly Kurdish oil-producing northeastern province of al-Hasaka, wresting control from the regime forces.

An official at the local mayor’s office said Turkish ambulances were carrying several injured Syrians to a hospital, across the border in the Turkish town of Ceylanpinar. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters. The force of the blast shattered shop windows in Ceylanpinar, in southeastern Turkey, the official said. It was not clear if anyone in Ceylanpinar was injured in the bombing.

The fighting in Ras al-Ayn touched off a massive flow of refugees two days ago, and more refugees were seen coming after the blast.

Earlier, a Syrian helicopter bombed rebel positions in an area further south of Ras al-Ayn and the rebels could be heard responding with machine guns, the official said.

He said the rebels had besieged a Syrian military unit in the region of Esfar Najar and the helicopter was trying to open up an escape route for the regime forces. It was also seen dropping ammunition and food for the soldiers, the official said. The violence in Syria has killed more than 36,000 people since an uprising against President Bashar Assad’s regime began in March 2011. Hundreds of thousands have fled the fighting into neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq. Another 11,000 escaped into Turkey on Friday following the surge of fighting at Ras al-Ayn.

Navy, MIT join forces for new intelligence vessel

Turkey’s first large dedicated electronic intelligence ship will be jointly operated by MIT and the Turkish Navy.

Turkey’s navy and national intelligence organization MIT have agreed to jointly procure a high-tech ship for collecting electronic intelligence from newly arising regional threats in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish Undersecretariat for Defence Industries, or SSM, has been tasked for launching a local tender for the construction of the new ship using Turkey’s indigenous capabilities to their fullest extent.

“Turkey has earmarked $120 million for the construction effort of Turkey’s first large scale intelligence ship.” a TR Defence source familiar with the programs of the Turkish Navy reported on Friday. “This will be a dedicated SIGINT/ELINT ship that will bear a number of advanced electronic capabilities, but will lack heavy weapons.”

Several countries currently use similar electronic intelligence ships for spying on the military transmissions of target states, finding and exploiting secret radar installations, eavesdropping on and decrypting sensitive information as well as actively jamming compromised enemy communications during war time. The ship is said to be used in conjunction with Turkey’s new Gokturk series of surveillance satellites planned for launch in 2013 and 2014.

Project will be managed by SSM and follow the successful footsteps of the Milgem program. Once complete in 2015, the ship will join Turkish Navy inventory but will be partially operated by MIT in line with Turkey’s widely varying intelligence gathering needs.

It is also expected to actively participate in NATO missions and exercises around the world.

 

Turkey hits targets inside Syria after border deaths

Turkish artillery has fired on targets in Syria after shells from across the border killed five Turkish nationals.

A woman and three children were among the dead when the shells, apparently fired by Syrian government forces, hit Turkey’s border town of Akcakale.

Ankara’s response marks the first time it has fired into Syria during the 18-month-long unrest there.

Turkey also asked the UN Security Council to take “necessary action” to stop Syrian “aggression”.

The request was made by Turkish envoy to the UN, Ertugrul Apakan, in a letter to the current president of the 15-member Council, Guatemalan ambassador Gert Rosenthal.

Meanwhile, Nato envoys held an urgent meeting in Brussels at the request of Turkey, who is a member of the military alliance.

The bloc issued a statement saying it “continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally, and urges the Syrian regime to put an end to flagrant violations of international law”.

The Nato ambassadors also expressed appreciation for Turkey’s restraint in its response, the BBC’s defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt reports.

At the same time, the government in Ankara is expected to ask the parliament on Thursday to authorise cross-border military operations in Syria, Turkish media report.

The Turkish armed forces have in the past moved into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants who had bases there.

‘Abominable attack’

Turkey’s territory has been hit by fire from Syria on several occasions since the uprising against Mr Assad began, but Wednesday’s incident was the most serious.

In a statement, the office of Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: “Our armed forces in the border region responded immediately to this abominable attack in line with their rules of engagement.”

Targets were struck through artillery fire against places in Syria identified by radar.

“Turkey will never leave unanswered such kinds of provocation by the Syrian regime against our national security,” the statement said.

Syria said it was looking into the origin of the cross-border shelling that hit Akcakale.

Information Minister Omran Zoabi added: “Syria offers its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to our friends the Turkish people.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu contacted UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the UN’s Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen after the incident.

Mr Ban urged Damascus to respect the territorial sovereignty of its neighbours, saying the cross-border incident “demonstrated how Syria’s conflict is threatening not only the security of the Syrian people but increasingly causing harm to its neighbours”.

Mr Rasmussen told Turkey’s foreign minister that he strongly condemned the incident, a Nato spokeswoman said, and continued to follow developments in the region “closely and with great concern”.

Mr Rasmussen has repeatedly said that Nato has no intention of intervening in Syria but stands ready to defend Turkey if necessary.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “We are outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across their border… and regretful of the loss of life on the Turkish side.”

Akcakale has been fired on several times over the past few weeks.

The BBC’s Jim Muir says Syrian government forces are attempting to cut rebel supply routes by winning back the border crossing at Tall al-Abyad which the rebels seized last month.

Residents have been advised to stay away from the border, and more than 100 schools have been closed in the region because of the violence in neighbouring Syria.

Panic

Turkey’s state-owned Anatolia news agency reported that angry townspeople had marched to the mayor’s office to protest about the deaths on Wednesday.

Town mayor Abdulhakim Ayhan said: “There is anger in our community against Syria,” adding that stray bullets and shells had panicked residents over the past 10 days.

Wednesday’s attack is believed to be only the second time that people have died as a result of violence spilling over the border from Syria into Turkey.

Two Syrian nationals were killed on Turkish soil in April by stray bullets fired from Syria.

In Syria itself, at least 34 people were killed and dozens wounded in a series of bomb explosions in the centre of Syria’s second city, Aleppo, on Wednesday.

The attacks levelled buildings in the city’s main square. A military officers’ club and a hotel being used by the military bore the brunt of the blasts, some of which were carried out by suicide car bombers.

BBC

Free Syrian Army HQ Relocated to Syria

After reports of several Free Syrian Army commencements on the field, alongside an ever increasing death toll of civilians being slaughtered by the Assad regime, the Free Syrian Army has announced that it will be moving its headquarters from Turkey to what it defines as “liberated areas” within Syria.

In a video posted on YouTube, a leading figure of the FSA, the defected General Riad al-Asad announced that this move has been undertaken to “unite all rebel groups” and to fight “side by side with all brigades and factions” operating in Syria, until the Assad regime is removed. The FSA, a structure controlling the independent brigades and groups made up of defectors from the Syrian Armed Forces, aims to achieve a greater coordination with such a move and focus on exerting pressure to the heart of the regime in Damascus.

USAK researcher and Middle East specialist Ali Hussein Bakeer commented on the developments characterizing the FSA’s move as a “progress” and adding that this was a “necessary step” in the current conjuncture. He also added that the Syrian political opposition currently also residing in Turkey should join the military leaders and relocate inside Syria. According to Bakeer, the political opposition should move to liberated areas and take on a role helping attend the administrative management of these areas. Currently the public services within these liberated areas such as courts or hospitals are being conducted by the FSA. According to the USAK expert, FSA doesn’t have the capability to manage such facilities. Therefore the support of the political opposition could help the FSA concentrate its resources on military activities instead.

With regards to possible consequences for Turkey, the Middle East specialist also indicated that the FSA’s relocation to Syria could help alleviate the political pressure and focus on Turkey. Many Assad supporters have charged Turkey of housing terrorists inside its borders due to Turkey opening its borders to the FSA. This move could help shift the focus off Turkey, Bakeer notes.

By Burc Kostem, JTW

Aselsan to produce STAMP & STOP systems in UAE

Turkey’s defence electronics giant Aselsan has signed a $2.7 million contract with IGG of the United Arab Emirates.

The contract aims to build and upgrade IGG’s facilities for the production of Aselsan’s proprietary STAMP and STOP stabilized remote weapon systems. STAMP features a two-axis gyro stabilized 12.7mm machine gun, remote command and control systems and a sensor suite complete with daylight TV, laser range finder and high-resolution infrared cameras. STOP is a similar platform that has adopted the 40mm grenade launcher as its primary weapon.

The project will last through 2013.

 

Aselsan to demostrate products at high-tech Radar Technology Conference

DefenceIQ’s Military Radar conference (27 – 29, November, London), now in its 10th year, is set to gather international military radar specialists and key players across industry, procurement and development including the Royal Air Force, French Navy, Royal Netherlands Navy, DSTL, DRDC, Selex Galileo, Aselsan and Raytheon.

Military Radar will provide insight from the military radar user and operator perspective on the latest radar systems across land, air and sea domains. There will be updates on the latest developments in radar where delegates will gain a complete picture from T/R modules and low cost multi-sensors to GMTI computational linguistic methods.

“Military Radar provides an excellent forum to interface with worldwide operational users and radar professionals to gain better understanding of radar capability needs and emerging radar trends to meet these needs”said Arnie Victor, Director, Strategy and Business Development, Raytheon.

Presentations at Military Radar include:

Military:

  • Netherlands SMART-L Upgrade: Thales Long-Range Air Defence Radar: led by Lieutenant Commander Ton de Kleijn, Head of Section Sensor Technology, DMO Netherlands

 

Defence Research:

  • Airborne Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar Technology: led by Dr Stephen Moore, Radar Team Leader, Joint Systems Department, DSTL

 

Industry Leaders:

  • ASELSAN Family of Air Defense Radars and Technology Building Blocks: led by, Dr Alpay Erdoğan, Manager, Air Defense Radars Programs, Aselsan

 

Speakers will outline the changing requirements and technological progress in semi-conductor materials (GaN, GaAs, Si1−xGex, InP) to advances in data processing. Millimeter Wave Radar and Military Applications: Diversity Means Superiority will be the core focus for two practical workshops at the event.

Ahead of the Military Radar gathering, DefenceIQ conducted an interview with Lieutenant Commander Mark Ruston, Requirements Manager at the UK Royal Navy on how the UK Royal Navy is rehauling radar for the modern era. In this interview Lt. Cdr. Ruston discusses major developments within the radar field where British Forces are concerned, including 4G remediation and upgrades for the 997 radar on the Type-23 frigate “HMS Iron Duke”.

The 10thAnnual Military Radar is sponsored by: Aselsan and Astra Microwave Products Limited.

The Specter of Syrian Chemical Weapons

By Scott Stewart

The unraveling of the al Assad regime in Syria will produce many geopolitical  consequences. One potential consequence has garnered a great deal of media  attention in recent days: the possibility of the regime losing control of its  chemical weapons stockpile. In an interview aired July 30 on CNN, U.S. Secretary  of Defense Leon Panetta said it would be a “disaster to have those chemical  weapons fall into the wrong hands — hands of Hezbollah or other extremists in  that area.” When he mentioned other extremists, Panetta was referring to local and transnational  jihadists, such as members of the group Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been  fighting with other opposition forces against the Syrian regime. He was also  referring to the many Palestinian militant groups such as Hamas and the Popular  Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, which have long had a  presence in Syria and until recently have been supported by the al Assad  regime.

The fear is that the jihadists will obtain chemical weapons to use in  terrorist attacks against the West. Israel is also concerned that Palestinian  groups could use them in terrorist attacks inside Israel or that Hezbollah could  use such weapons against the Israelis in a conventional military battle.  However, while the security of these weapons is a legitimate concern, it is  important to recognize that there are a number of technical and practical  considerations that will limit the impact of these weapons even if a militant  group were able to obtain them.

Militant Use of Chemical Weapons

Militant groups have long had a fascination with chemical weapons. One of the  largest non-state chemical and biological weapons programs in history belonged  to the Aum Shinrikyo  organization in Japan. The group had large production facilities located in  an industrial park that it used to produce thousands of gallons of ineffective  biological agents. After the failure of its biological program, it shifted its  focus to chemical weapons production and conducted a number of attacks using  chemical agents such as hydrogen cyanide gas, phosgene and VX and sarin nerve  agents.

Jihadists have also demonstrated an interest in chemical weapons. The  investigation of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing found that bombmaker Abdul  Basit (aka Ramzi Yousef) had added sodium cyanide to the large vehicle-borne  improvised explosive device detonated in the Trade Center’s basement parking  garage. The cyanide was either consumed or so widely scattered by the huge blast  that its effects were not noticed at the time of the attack. The presence of the  cyanide was only uncovered after investigators found a list of the chemicals  ordered by conspirator Nidal Ayyad and debriefed Basit after his arrest.

In his testimony at his 2001 trial for the Millennium Bomb plot, Ahmed Ressam  described training he had received at al Qaeda’s Deronta facility in Afghanistan  for building a hydrogen cyanide device. Ressam said members of the group had  practiced their skills, using the gas to kill a dog that was confined in a small  box.

Videos found by U.S. troops after the invasion of Afghanistan supported  Ressam’s testimony — as did confiscated al Qaeda training manuals that  contained recipes for biological toxins and chemical agents, including hydrogen  cyanide gas. The documents recovered in Afghanistan prompted the CIA to  publish a report on al Qaeda’s chemical and biological weapons program that  created a lot of chatter in late 2004.

There have been other examples as well. In February 2002, Italian authorities  arrested several Moroccan men who were found with about 4 kilograms (9 pounds)  of potassium ferrocyanide and allegedly were planning to attack the U.S. Embassy  in Rome.

In June 2006, Time magazine broke the story of an alleged  al Qaeda plot to attack subways in the United States using improvised  devices designed to generate hydrogen cyanide gas. The plot was reportedly  aborted because the al Qaeda leadership feared it would be ineffective.

In 2007, jihadist militants deployed a series of large  vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices augmented with chlorine gas  against targets in Iraq. However, the explosives in these attacks inflicted far  more casualties than the gas. This caused the militants to deem the addition of  chlorine to the devices as not worth the effort, and the Iraqi jihadists  abandoned their chemical warfare experiment in favor of employing vehicle-borne  improvised explosive devices without a chemical kicker.

There have also been several credible reports in Iraq of militants using  chemical artillery rounds in improvised explosive device attacks against  coalition forces, but those attacks also appear to have been largely  ineffective.

Difficult to Employ

Using chemical munitions on the battlefield presents a number of challenges.  The first of these is sufficiently concentrating the chemical agent to affect  the targeted troops. In order to achieve heavy concentrations of the agent,  chemical weapon attacks were usually delivered by a massive artillery  bombardment using chemical weapons shells. Soviet military chemical weapons  doctrine relied heavily on weapons systems such as batteries of BM-21 multiple  rocket launchers, which can be used to deliver a massive amount of ordnance to a  targeted area. Additionally, it is very difficult to control the gas cloud  created by the massive barrage. There were instances in World War I and in the  Iran-Iraq War in which troops were affected by chemical weapon clouds that had  been created by their own artillery but had blown back upon them.

Delivering a lethal dose is also a problem in employing chemical weapons in  terrorist attacks, as seen by the attacks outlined above. For example, in the  March 20, 1995, attack on the Tokyo subway system, Aum Shinrikyo members  punctured 11 plastic bags filled with sarin on five different subway trains.  Despite the typically very heavy crowds on the trains and in the Tokyo subway  stations that morning, the attacks resulted in only 12 deaths — although  thousands of other commuters were sickened by the attack, some severely.

The Syrian regime is thought to have mustard gas as well as tabun, sarin  and VX nerve agents in its chemical weapons inventory. Mustard gas, a blistering  agent, is the least dangerous of these compounds. In World War I, less than 5  percent of the troops who were exposed to mustard gas died. Tabun and sarin tend  to be deployed in a volatile liquid form that evaporates to form a gas. Once in  gas form, these agents tend to dissipate somewhat quickly. VX, on the other  hand, a viscous nerve agent, was developed to persist in an area after it is  delivered in order to prevent an enemy force from massing in or passing through  that area. While VX is more persistent, it is more difficult to cause a mass  casualty attack with it since droplets of the liquid agent must come into  contact with the victim, unlike other agents that evaporate to form a large  cloud.

But there are other difficulties besides delivering a lethal dose. Because of  improvements in security measures and intelligence programs since 9/11, it has  proved very difficult for jihadists to conduct attacks in the West, even when  their attack plans have included using locally manufactured explosives. There  have been numerous cases in which plots have either failed, like the May  2010 Times Square attack involving Faisal Shahzad, or been detected and  thwarted, like the September  2009 plot to attack the New York subway system involving Najibullah  Zazi.

Because of the improved security, it would be very difficult for jihadists to  smuggle chemical agents into the United States or Europe, even if they were able  to obtain them. Indeed, as mentioned above, the chemical artillery rounds used  in improvised explosive devices in Iraq were employed in that country, not  smuggled out of the region.

This means that jihadists not only face the tactical problem of effectively  employing the agent in an attack but also the logistical problem of transporting  it to the West. This difficulty of transport will increase further as awareness  of the threat increases. One way around the logistical problem would be to use  the agent against a soft target  in the region. Such targets could include hotels, tourist sites, airport  arrival lounges or even Western airliners departing from airports with less than  optimal security.

Another option for jihadists or Palestinian militants could be to attempt to  smuggle the chemical agent into Israel for use in an attack. However, in recent  years, increased security measures following past suicide bombing attacks in  Israel have caused problems for militant groups smuggling weapons into Israel.  The same problems would apply to chemical agents — especially since border  security has already been stepped up again due to the increased flow of weapons  from Libya to Gaza.

Militants could attempt to solve this logistical challenge by launching a  warhead or a barrage of warheads into Israel using rockets, but such militant  rocket fire tends to be very inaccurate and, like conventional rocket warheads,  these chemical warheads would be unlikely to hit any target of value. Even if a  rocket landed in a populated area, it would be unlikely to produce many  casualties due to the problem of creating a lethal concentration of the agent —  although it would certainly cause a mass panic.

The use of chemical weapons would also undoubtedly spur Israel to retaliate  heavily in order to deter additional attacks. This threat of massive retaliation  has kept Syria from using chemical weapons against Israel or allowing its  militant proxies to use them.

Hezbollah may be the militant organization in the region that could most  effectively utilize Syrian chemical munitions. The group possesses a large  inventory of artillery rockets, which could be used to deliver the type of  barrage attack required for a successful chemical weapon attack. Rumors have  been swirling around the region for many months that Libyan rebels sold some  chemical munitions to Hezbollah and Hamas. While we have seen confirmed reports  that man-portable air-defense systems and other Libyan weapons are being  smuggled into Sinai en route to Gaza, there has been no confirmation that  chemical rounds are being smuggled out of Libya.

Still, even if Hezbollah were to receive a stockpile of chemical munitions  from Syria or Libya, it has a great deal to lose by employing such munitions.  First, it would have to face the aforementioned massive retaliation from Israel.  While Israel was somewhat constrained in its attacks on Hezbollah’s leadership  and infrastructure in the August 2006 war, it is unlikely to be nearly as  constrained in responding to a chemical weapon attack on its armed forces or a  population center. Because of the way chemical weapons are viewed, the Israelis  would be seen internationally as having just cause for massive retaliation.  Second, Hezbollah would face severe international repercussions over any such  attack. As an organization, Hezbollah has been working for many years to  establish itself as a legitimate political party in Lebanon and avoid being  labeled as a terrorist organization in Europe and elsewhere. A chemical weapon  attack would bring heavy international condemnation and would not be in the  group’s best interest at this time.

So, while securing Syrian chemical munitions is an imperative, there are  tactical and practical constraints that will prevent militants from creating the  type of nightmare scenario discussed in the media, even if some chemical weapons  fell into the wrong hands.

Stratfor