U.S. and Israeli officials say there is fear a government breakup in Syria could lead to rogue groups armed with a variety of chemical weapons.
“We are very concerned about the status of Syria’s weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons,” Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren recently told The Wall Street Journal.
“Together with the U.S. administration, we are watching this situation very carefully,” he said.
With civil unrest turning into a prolonged conflict for regime change in Libya — an event following former President Hosni Mubarak’s downfall in Egypt — there is concern that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could also be toppled with a populist revolt.
“We see a lot of opportunity emerging from the end of the Assad regime,” Oren said.
“The fear is fragmentation. If you have a situation where the military fragments, or where some of the locations are overrun, then you have all these other contingencies you have to plan for,” said Leonard Spector, director the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, a Washington think tank.
Assad has held onto power for 11 years, and his father Hafez al-Assad ruled Syria for 29 years until he died.
Syria has repeatedly provoked concern over its weapons programs.
In late 2007, Israeli military strikes destroyed what U.N. investigators said was a nuclear reactor built with the help of North Korea. In 2008, U.S. President George W. Bush charged Damascus with constructing a reactor in eastern Syria that was capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium.
Syria is one of six countries that have not signed an international treaty banning production of chemical weapons.
The Central Intelligence Agency said in 2009 Syria “has a stockpile of chemical weapons, which can be delivered by aircraft, ballistic missiles and artillery rockets.”
Having weapons of mass destruction fall into the wrong hands “is on the radar screen, and a lot of people are watching this closely,” a U.S. official told the Journal Saturday.
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