Syria Biological Weapons/Armed Forces Overview
Syria signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BWC) in April 1972. Since that time, Syria has refused to ratify the BWC and has given no indications that it might change its position. For several decades, Syria has expressed a generalized opposition to WMD. At the same time, Syria has supported the right of any state to adopt those measures that it deems most appropriate to securing itself against outside threats—a position that has in the past been interpreted as representing a political cover for the development of WMD.
Syria appears to have acquired a limited defensive capability against biological weapons in the early 1970s, a result of receiving modern Soviet land warfare systems such as tanks and armored personnel carriers that included NBC protective equipment as standard equipment. It is unclear whether the Syrian protective capability against the use of biological weapons has improved significantly since. In the absence of an indigenous production capability, it is likely that there has actually been a decline in the Syrian capability for defense since the late 1980s because of the inability to obtain replacements for the aging or obsolete equipment.
Since the late 1980s, Syria has undertaken a sustained effort to increase its national capabilities in the pharmaceuticals and bio-technology fields. This has involved the establishment of a number of joint-venture companies and the construction of approximately 12 pharmaceutical factories. These facilities produce for domestic and export markets. It is possible that their construction and operation has resulted in the transfer to Syria of skills and technologies relevant to a BW program.
Allegations of an active offensive BW program cite the primary Syrian biological weapons facility as being located at the Damascus-based Scientific Research Council, where anthrax, cholera, and botulism developed by the Biological Research Facility are produced. In 1992, an additional facility in the Syrian coastal town of Cerin was identified as being responsible for biological weapons production. Since that time, open sources have preferred to refer to the probability that Syria is developing biological weapons and have tended to avoid definitive statements.
There are no clear indications that Syria currently possesses an offensive biological weapons capability. There is a hypothetical technical and scientific potential to research, develop, produce, and deploy biological weapons. It is probable, though undemonstrated, that limited research into biological weapons is undertaken by Syrian military scientists. As in many countries, it may only be to identify defensive needs and possible offensive military applications. Claims that Syria has weaponized botulinum toxin and ricin are dubious given the profound difficulties associated with transforming these agents into useful weapons. Research on anthrax may be undertaken in support of efforts to improve the productivity and limit the vulnerability of Syrian agriculture. Such research could be used to conceal a military program and may be the source of cautious claims that Syria is attempting to weaponize anthrax. If anthrax has in actuality been developed and deployed as a weapon, it is possible that Syria would seek to employ bomblet technology such as that allegedly developed for the dispersal of CW agents. However, on the basis of present knowledge, any conclusions about weaponization or deployment modes must be speculative.
Public statements by Western intelligence agencies concur in describing Syria as possessing a limited biotechnical capability that would require significant outside technical assistance before it could undertake large-scale production and weaponization. Isolated claims that Syria has weaponized and deployed biological agents or toxins are unsupported by facts and probably reflect political goals more than technical analyses. In the absence of new revelations, it is impossible to support or refute allegations that Syria has an active BW program. It is equally difficult to make any claims regarding military or strategic aspects of this alleged program in the absence of more information.
Jill Dekker-Bellamy, Biodefense Consultant to a new European defense policy interest group, the New Defense Agenda, wrote:
We shouldn’t be stuck in the box debating the lack of sophistication
terrorists have yet employed; the feasibility question or which pathogen
they will use, be it in a material or weaponised form. Our focus instead
would be better placed considering the stated intent of terrorists to do
so and preventing and denying them access to all the means to conduct
their terror campaign. . . .
Much debate has gone into whether or not terrorists or states pose
the greatest threat in the use of disease as a weapon. These debates
over whether or not terrorists are capable of successfully conducting a
biological attack normally get bogged down in a number of areas related
either to acquisition, technical areas (i.e., feasibility/dispersal/capacity)
or areas related to kill ratios and casualty numbers as if this is the Geiger
counter of successful biological terrorism. This may be of interest in
ranking weapons of mass destruction but not necessarily in ranking a
successful bio-terror campaign. Contemporary threat assessments, even
more than 2 years ago, point to smaller groups as now being more likely
to succeed in a bio-terrorism event, utilizing a diversity of agents.
MILITARY RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Syria's efforts to develop WMD forms the main focus of its military research and development programme. It has been reported that Syria is working with experts from a number of other countries at secret locations in Syria to develop its own capability to produce ballistic missiles. Syria is believed to have been producing and stockpiling chemical weapons at a number of centres and to have also carried out research into biological weapons.
The Syrian Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) engages in independent weapon system development for the Syrian military establishment and is involved in almost every weapon development programme in the country. It is also responsible for producing strategic weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles and rocket systems, as well as chemical and biological warfare agents.
 John W. Finney, "Abrams cites Intelligence Gained from Soviet Arms in Mideast," New York Times, 15 February 1974, p. 4.
 Richard M. Bennett, "The Syrian Military: A Primer," Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, August/September 2001,
 "Investigation: Syrian CW programs," Middle East Defense News (Paris), 28 September 1992, pp. 5-6.
 "Syria's Secret Weapons," Jane's Intelligence Digest, 2 May 2003,
 Paul Beaver, "Syria to Make Chemical Bomblets for Scud C's," Jane's Defence Weekly, 3 September 1997, p. 3.
- Jill Dekker-Bellamy, Next Generation Threat Reduction: Bioterrorism’s
Challenges and Solutions, a Report of the Third Meeting of the New Defence Agenda’s
Bioterrorism Reporting Group, New Defense Agenda, Brussels, Belgium, January
25, 2005, p. 46.
Summary of BW Capabilities
BW Agent Type Quantity Status
Anthrax bacterium (Bacillus anthracis) Bacteria Unknown Suspected/R&D (?)
Brucellosis (Brucella sp.) Bacteria Unknown Suspected/R&D (?)
Cholera bacterium (Vibrio cholerae) Bacteria Unknown Suspected
Botulinum toxin Toxin Unknown Suspected
Ricin toxin Toxin Unknown Suspected
Smallpox virus (Variola major) Virus Unknown Suspected
BW Agent Descriptions
Anthrax bacterium (Bacillus anthracis)
This causative agent of anthrax is one of the most frequently mentioned in discussions of Syria's BW program. An isolated report claims that Syria has weaponized anthrax bacteria, incorporating it into Scud missiles, possibly with the assistance of Russian scientists. These charges provide no further details and are sufficiently isolated that they can be regarded as unreliable. It is noteworthy that US open source statements do not make any claims of Syrian weaponization, alleging only that weapons-related research is ongoing. B. anthracis is particularly suitable for weapons programs due to the organism's ability to form durable spores, simplifying the requirements for effective delivery. As a result, B. anthracis is often a early development choice for offensive BW programs. The bacteria is endemic to Syria and represents an ongoing threat to pastoralists and agricultural activity. Syria is likely to undertake ongoing studies in an effort to protect its agricultural sector against the dangers of this disease. Research efforts of this type would potentially be relevant to a BW program and may be the source of claims that the bacteria is being developed as an agricultural biological weapon. On the basis of currently available evidence, it is possible that Syria has an ongoing program of research exploring the potential of B. anthracis as a biological weapon. There are no clear indications, however, that Syria has moved beyond this stage to active weaponization or deployment.
Brucellosis (Brucella sp.)
Brucellosis is caused by bacteria from the Brucella genus. Endemic throughout the Middle East, animal populations provide Syrian researchers with the opportunity to study this agent for possible weapons applications if so desired. Open source information indicates that Syrian researchers were able to isolate Brucella abortus and Brucella melitensis from the local animal population in the early 1990s. No evidence indicates that this research was directed to the support of military research programs although such a development is possible. The U.S. military developed and deployed brucellosis-causing bacteria as a biological incapitant prior to the termination of its offensive biological weapons program in 1972.
Cholera bacteria (Vibrio cholerae)
An allegation of the production of the causative agent of cholera as a biological weapon was made in 1997. This claim, which has been repeated subsequently, provided no details as to the method of dissemination or possible strategic thinking behind developing or producing this easily countered water-borne bacterial disease. Despite the specific claim that production has taken place on the basis of current information, it would be appropriate to treat this isolated report as unreliable.
Botulinum toxin, from the Clostridium botulinum bacteria, has been produced as a biological weapon by a number of states in the past, including Iraq. In 2003, it was reported that German and Israeli intelligence believe Syria possesses and can weaponize botulinum toxin. No other information was provided and it is impossible to make a determination as to the veracity of the assertion.
It is possible that Syria has produced and stored limited quantities of ricin. UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) records indicate that Syria produced between five and eighteen metric tons of castor beans annually between 1980 and 1995, allowing for the possibility that ricin has been isolated. Ricin is destroyed by high heat (as is the case for all protein-based toxins) or exposure to high-intensity ultraviolet light. It is, however, environmentally robust, being able to withstand moderate heat (<100°c>.
 A. Venter, "Cooking Up Toxins," Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor, 1 July 2003,
 M. Darwesh and A. Benkirane, "Field Investigations of Brucellosis in Cattle and Small Ruminants in Syria, 1990-1996," Scientific and Technical Review 20 (December 2001), p. 711,
 Briefing by a US government official to a 1995 workshop. The briefing was presented on a no attribution basis. David R. Tanks, Exploring U.S. Missile Defense Requirements in 2010: What Are the Policy and Technology Challenges? (Medford, Massachusetts, 1997),
 "Syria's Secret Weapons," Jane's Intelligence Digest, 2 May 2003,
 Food and Agriculture Organization Statistics,
 "Syria's Secret Weapons," Jane's Intelligence Digest, 2 May 2003,
 Jonathan B. Tucker, Scourge: The Once and Future Threat of Smallpox, (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001), p. 84.
 Dany Shoham, "Poisoned Missiles: Syria's Doomsday Deterrent," Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2002),
This annotated chronology is based on the data sources that follow each entry. Public sources often provide conflicting information on classified military programs. In some cases we are unable to resolve these discrepancies, in others we have deliberately refrained from doing so to highlight the potential influence of false or misleading information as it appeared over time. In many cases, we are unable to independently verify claims. Hence in reviewing this chronology, readers should take into account the credibility of the sources employed here.
Inclusion in this chronology does not necessarily indicate that a particular development is of direct or indirect proliferation significance. Some entries provide international or domestic context for technological development and national policymaking. Moreover, some entries may refer to developments with positive consequences for nonproliferation.
14 April 1972
The Syrian Arab Republic signs the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production and Stockpiling of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons and on their Destruction (BWC).
—Status of Multilateral Arms Regulation and Disarmament Agreements
In testimony before the House Armed Service Committee, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General Creighton Abrams notes, “the sophistication, completeness, and extensiveness” of chemical, biological, and radiological defenses found on Soviet-supplied equipment captured from Syrian forces during the Arab-Israeli war of October 1973.
—John W. Finney, “Abrams Cites Intelligence Gained from Soviet Arms in Mideast,” New York Times, 15 February 1974, p. 4.
Director of U.S. Naval Intelligence, Rear-Admiral Thomas Brooks testifies that Syria currently has developed an offensive BW capability.
—Statement of Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks, USN, Director of Naval Intelligence, before the Seapower, Strategic, and Critical Materials Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, on Intelligence Issues, 7 March 1991, pp. 56-59.
In the U.S. Senate, Director of Central Intelligence Robert Gates testifies on proliferation questions and mentions the existence of a biological weapons program in Syria. He also states that Syria "apparently is seeking assistance from China and Western firms for an improved capability with biological warheads.”
—Robert Gates, Prepared Testimony, Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, 15 and 22 January 1992.
U.S. officials state that they have identified a facility in the Syrian town of Cerin dedicated to the production of biological agents.
—“Investigation: Syrian CW programs,” Middle East Defense News (Paris), 28 September 1992, pp. 5-6.
19 January 1993
In the United States, a report prepared by the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency claims that based on evidence to date, it is highly probable that Syria is developing an offensive biological warfare capability.
—Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control Agreements, (Washington DC: Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, 1993).
Syria is described as possessing an offensive biological warfare capability. Syria is also reported to be seeking assistance from Chinese and Western companies in the development of biological warheads.
—Michael Eisenstadt, “Syria’s Strategic Weapons,” Jane's Intelligence Review 5 (April 1993), p. 168,
14 June 1993
U.S. Defense Secretary Les Aspin, in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, speaking of the growing challenge faced by Israel from ballistic missiles with nuclear or CBW warheads notes that Syria has biological weapons and is seeking long range missiles.
—“Israel safer today than at any time, but new threats loom – Aspin,” Defense Daily, 16 June 1993, p. 434.
Concern is expressed that North Korea may be assisting Syria in the development of biological weapons and warheads.
—“Chemical and Biological Warfare Programme Special Report,” Jane’s Intelligence Review 6 (April 1994), p. 192,
In the U.S. Congress, a study of potential military countermeasures against nuclear and CBW weapons proliferation is published by the Congressional Research Service. It includes Syria in a list of seven states that probably possess biological weapons.
—John M. Collins, Zachary S. Davis, and Steven R. Bowman, Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapon Proliferation: Potential Military Countermeasures: Congressional Research Service Report for Congress No. 94-528 S, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 1994).
22 August 1994
In Germany, Der Spiegel, purportedly quoting from a confidential Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) report of May 1994, states that Syria is on the point of establishing a native capacity for the production of biological weapons.
—“Death and terror from the laboratory,” Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 22 August 1994, pp. 22-25, as translated from the German in JPRS-TND-94-017, 8 September 1994, pp. 39-42.
The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Annual Report states that “it is highly probable that Syria is developing an offensive biological warfare capability.”
—Barbara Starr, “Egypt and Syria are BW Capable, Says Agency,” Jane's Defence Weekly, 21 August 1996, p. 15,
U.S. and Israeli officials engage in a series of meetings to discuss Syrian WMD. Israeli officials indicate that a major focus of discussion will be “a newly acquired capability by Syria to produce...biological warheads and place them on Scud surface-to-surface missiles.” The officials also state that Syria has received the help of Russian scientists in its biological weapons program which includes the manufacture of anthrax.
—Steve Rodan, “Syria’s Chemical Arms to Head Agenda at US-Israel Talks,” Jerusalem Post, 2 December 1996, p. 2.
U.S. intelligence sources express concerns that Chinese equipment may be involved in what they think is an underground chemical/biological weapons factory outside of Damascus. The concerns are linked to documents seized from two German nationals arrested in Germany and charged with illegal equipment sales.
—M. Yost, "China's Deadly Trade in the MidEast," Wall Street Journal, 4 December 1996, pp. 1, 18.
The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency 1996 compliance report states that “it is highly probable that Syria is developing an offensive biological warfare capability.”
—Threat Control Through Arms Control: Annual Report to Congress 1996, (Washington, DC: US Government Printers Office, 1997).
The U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency 1997 compliance report states that “it is highly probable that Syria is developing an offensive biological warfare capability.”
—Threat Control Through Arms Control: Annual Report to Congress 1997, (Washington, DC: US Government Printers Office, 1998).
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen releases the third edition of Proliferation: Threat and Response, which includes a section describing Syrian BW capabilities. Syria’s biotechnical infrastructure is described as being capable of supporting limited agent development. However, the Syrians are not believed to have begun any major effort to put biological agents into weapons. Without significant foreign assistance, it is unlikely that Syria could manufacture significant amounts of biological weapons for several years.
—Proliferation Threat and Response (Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2001), p. 45.
19 November 2001
In his statement to the opening session of the fifth Biological Weapons Convention Review Conference, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton claims that “Syria [which has not ratified the BWC] has an offensive BW program in the research and development stage, and it may be capable of producing small quantities of agent.”
—“Remarks to the 5th Biological Weapons Convention RevCon Meeting”, US Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, 19 November 2001,
18 April 2002
In the U.S. Senate, Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rick Santorum (R-PA) introduce the Syria Accountability Act of 2002 (S 2215). The act states that “the government of Syria should halt the development and deployment of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles and cease the development and production of biological and chemical weapons.” The act would make it U.S. policy that “Syria’s acquisition of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs threaten the security of the Middle East and the national interests of the United States.” Sanctions are also provided for in the act.
—The CBW Conventions Bulletin, No. 56 (June 2002), p. 44.
6 May 2002
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton delivers a speech in which he draws attention to Syria’s possession of weapons of mass destruction and its ties to terrorist groups.
—Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, Beyond the Axis of Evil: Additional Threats from Weapons of Mass Destruction, Remarks to the Heritage Foundation, 6 May 2002,
Syria is preparing to begin serial production of an extended range version of the Scud-C ballistic missile. The missile is believed to be fitted with a warhead specially designed to accommodate biological or chemical warfare agents which separates from the missile after engine cutoff.
—Steve Rodan and Andrew Koch, “Syria Preparing to Build Extended-Range Scud,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 19 June 2002,
26 August 2002
In an address to the Tokyo-American Center U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton claims that Syria continues to pursue biological weapons.
—“Cuba, Iran Seek to Exploit Bio-Weapons Ban,” Middle East Newsline 4 No. 326, 29 August 2002.
25 December 2002
During a television appearance, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says: “[w]e believe that biological and chemical weapons that Saddam Hussein wanted hidden were transferred to Syria.” The prime minister subsequently indicated that this information had not yet been confirmed. In Iraq, UNMOVIC inspectors continue their efforts to verify Iraq’s declarations on the status of its WMD programs.
—Paul H. B. Shin, “Saddam Hiding Arms in Syria – Sharon,” Daily News (New York), 25 December 2002, p. 9.
Sources in Jerusalem claim that Britain has informed Israel that it has warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad not to store Iraq's WMD in his country or cause an escalation along the Lebanese border with Hizballah's help. The warning was relayed to Bashar al-Assad by a special British emissary several days prior.
—“Israeli Political Sources: UK Warned Syria Not To Hide Iraqi WMD, Heat Up Border,” GMP20030320000181 Jerusalem Voice of Israel Network B in Hebrew, 20 March 2003.
10 April 2003
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency releases its unclassified biannual report on WMD proliferation. It repeats previous assessments that it is highly probable that Syria is continuing to develop an offensive BW capability.
—Unclassied Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions, 1 January through 30 June 2002 (Washington, DC: Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, 2003),
16 April 2003
On behalf of the 22-state Arab League, Syria introduces a draft resolution in the UN Security Council calling for all states in the region to join all three anti-WMD treaties: the NPT, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), and the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC).
—“Syria asks UN to put heat on Israel's nuclear arms,” Reuters, 16 April 2003,
German and Israeli intelligence sources assert that Syria possesses and can weaponize anthrax, botulinum toxin, and ricin. The article also notes the existence of significant dual-use industrial capability that could be applied to the BW program.
—“Syria’s Secret Weapons,” Jane’s Intelligence Digest, 2 May 2003,
3 May 2003
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Damascus to discuss US-Syria relations and US concerns regarding Syria’s support of terrorism and pursuit of WMD. Speaking with reporters prior to his meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Secretary Powell dismisses a Syrian proposal to make the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction labeling the proposal “political.” He says; “[i]t has always been a U.S. goal that conditions should be created in this part of the world where no nation would have a need for weapons of mass destruction.” “I am not supportive at the moment of a particular declaration that might be put forward for political purposes or to highlight the issue.”
—“Powell - Syria now knows what US wants,” Associated Press, 4 May 2003,
31 May 2003
U.S. President George Bush announces a new effort to combat weapons of mass destruction (WMD), called the Proliferation Security Initiative. The goal is to work with other concerned states to develop new means to disrupt the proliferation trade at sea, in the air, and on land. The initiative reflects the need for a more dynamic, proactive approach to the global proliferation problem. It envisions partnerships of states working in concert, employing their national capabilities to develop a broad range of legal, diplomatic, economic, military and other tools to interdict threatening shipments of WMD and missile-related equipment and technologies.
—NTI website; “Transcript - Bush Urges NATO Nations to Unite in Fight against Terrorism,” 31 May 2003,
According to the U.S. Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), Syria is one of several countries suspected of having an agricultural bioweapons program. The Syrian program allegedly focuses on anthrax.
—A. Venter, “Cooking Up Toxins,” Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor, 1 July 2003,
16 September 2003
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton gives testimony before Congress in which he names Syria as a dangerous possessor of chemical weapons. Bolton also indicates that the United States is continuing to investigate rumors that Iraq transferred its WMD to Syria prior to the US invasion in March 2003, which he describes as unconfirmed but a cause for concern.
—Bill Gertz, “US Probe focuses on Syria Weapons,” Washington Times, 17 September 2003,
3 October 2003
Responding to reporters’ questions, the head of the U.S. Iraq Survey Group (ISG), David Kay, says that the group has “multiple reports from Iraqis of substances being moved across borders.” Kay further notes that there were movements of Iraqi military and scientific officials to Syria and Jordan before and immediately after the beginning of the war. Kay also says that the ISG does not know if any of these movements were directly related to Iraqi WMD programs.
—Justin Cole, “Kay says Iraqi WMD may have been moved abroad,” Agence France Presse, 3 October 2003,
6 October 2003
Israeli aircraft bomb and destroy a facility 14 miles from Damascus that is described as a training facility for Islamic Jihad terrorists. This is the first raid on Syria by Israeli forces since 1982.
—Rachel Walley, “Israeli’s target Syrian base,” Birmingham Post, 6 October 2003,
8 October 2003
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan indicates that the Bush administration has ended its two-year long opposition to passage of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. In the U.S. Congress, the House International Relations Committee approves the bill 33 to 2, freeing it for a vote in the House of Representatives. The bill has 275 co-sponsors in the House
—“Bush clears way for Syrian sanctions bill,” Agence France Presse, 8 October 2003,
10 October 2003
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton gives a speech in London in which he links Syria with the so-called Axis of Evil. In his speech Bolton accuses Syria of sponsoring terrorism and pursuing WMD. Bolton also included Libya and Cuba in the Axis of Evil.
—Michael Evans and Richard Beeston, “US extends axis of evil to Syria, Libya and Cuba,” The Times (London), 10 October 2003,
15 October 2003
The U.S. House of Representatives passes the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. The vote is 398 to 4. The bill requires the president to enact at least two of a possible six economic sanctions against Syria if Damascus fails to end its alleged support for terrorism and its suspected efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction.
—Stephanie Griffith, “US House of representatives votes to sanction Syria for alleged terror ties,” Agence France Presse, 16 October 2003,
16 October 2003
Speaking in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher describes impending U.S. moves to apply sanctions on Syria as inappropriate and unjustifiable.
—“Egypt denounces US moves to sanction Syria,” Agence France Presse, 16 October 2003,
17 October 2003
The Organization of the Islamic Conference concludes its tenth summit in the city of Putrajaya, Malaysia by issuing a special declaration denouncing “the American Congress’ Accountability Act to impose unilateral sanctions on Syria.”
—Kazi Mahmood, “Malaysia: OIC slams Syria sanctions, but offers no Iraq resolution,” IPS-Inter Press Service, 17 October 2003,
28 October 2003
Speaking with reporters, General James R. Clapper Jr., head of the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency (NIMA), suggests that evidence of Iraqi WMD programs was moved to Syria, and perhaps other countries, prior to the US invasion of March 2003. Describing his position as an educated hunch, Clapper notes that U.S. intelligence tracked large numbers of Iraqi trucks moving into Syria in early 2003 and that these “may have been people leaving the scene, and unquestionably, I am sure, material.”
—John J. Lumpkin, “Intelligence chief suggests Iraq’s WMD moved outside country,” Associated Press, 28 October 2003,
30 October 2003
In a speech in London, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton reiterates that it is the view of the US government that Syria is working to develop an offensive biological weapons capability.
—Mike Nartker, “Officials, Experts Debate US Strategy on Syria,” Global Security Newswire, 31 October 2003,
30 October 2003
In testimony before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Cofer Black, the State Department counter-terrorism coordinator, says: “[w]hile there is currently no information indicating that the Syrian government has transferred WMD to terrorist organizations or would permit such groups to acquire them, Syria’s ties to numerous terrorist groups underlie the reasons for our continued attention.”
—Stephanie Griffith, “Despite US pressure, Syria continues to support terror: State Department,” Agence France Presse, 31 October 2003,
30 October 2003
Mr. William J. Burns, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, provides written testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in which he states: “Syria is fully committed to expanding and improving its chemical and biological weapons programs, which it believes serve as a deterrent to regional adversaries.”
—Statement by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William J. Burns to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 30 October 2003,
10 November 2003
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency submits its “Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions,” for 1 January Through 30 June 2003 in accordance with S.721 of the FY1997 Intelligence Authorization Act. In respect to Syria, the report states that until June 2003, “[i]t is highly probable that Syria also continued to develop an offensive BW capability.”
— Unclassified Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions (Washington, DC: Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, 2003), p. 6,
11 November 2003
With an 89 to 4 vote, the U.S. Senate passes the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act. The bill was passed by the House of Representatives on 15 October 2003; the Senate version of the bill is slightly different. It includes a provision allowing the president to invoke a national security waiver asserting that it is in the U.S. interest not to sanction Syria. .
—Carl Hulse, “Senate Follows House Vote and Votes to Impose Sanctions against Syria,” New York Times, 12 November 2003, p. A10.
12 November 2003
Responding to the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act, Syria’s Al-Baath newspaper observes, “those who want any useful dealings with Syria must understand that only dialogue can bear fruit.”
—Roueida Mabardi, “Syria caught between defiance and fear of US sanctions threat,” Agence France Presse, 12 November 2003,
13 November 2003
Syrian Information Minister Ahmad al-Hassan issues a statement in which he says: “Syria will not close the door on dialogue with the American administration, even if the hawks in that administration want to push for escalation in an unjustifiable way.” The statement is the first direct response by a Syrian official to the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act.
—Roueida Mabardi, “Syria to pursue dialogue with US after sanctions move,” Agence France Presse, 13 November 2003,
20 November 2003
The US House of Representatives votes 408 to 8 to accept the U.S. Senate version of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act.
—“Legislation: Congress clears Syria sanctions,” Facts on File World News, 20 November 2003, p. 956A2,
2 December 2003
Speaking at a conference organized by the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis and the Fletcher School’s International Security Studies Program, U.S. Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security John R. Bolton issues a warning to Syria and a number of other states. Mr. Bolton says: “Rogue states such as Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba, whose pursuit of weapons of mass destruction makes them hostile to U.S. interests, will learn that their covert programs will not escape detection or consequences.” He went on to warn: “[w]hile we will pursue diplomatic solutions whenever possible, the United States and its allies are also willing to deploy more robust techniques, such as the interdiction and seizure of illicit goods. If rogue states are not willing to follow the logic of nonproliferation norms, they must be prepared to face the logic of adverse consequences.”
—“Washington warns five countries over weapons of mass destruction,” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 3 December 2003,
9 December 2003
After five years of negotiations, Syrian and European negotiators reach an agreement in principle on an association accord. The chief EU negotiator, Mr. Christian Leffler notes: “Syria and the EU have reached an accord on all points, even the political ones.” The next stage in the process is approval of the agreement by political authorities. A successful conclusion of the agreement is necessary for Syria’s participation in efforts to create an EU-Mediterranean free trade area by 2010.
—Roueida Mabardi, “Syria, EU agree in principle on association accord,” Agence France Presse, 9 December 2003,
12 December 2003
U.S. President George W. Bush signs the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act into law. He also issues a statement that his “approval of the act does not constitute my adoption of the various statements of policy in the act as U.S. foreign policy.”
—Jennifer Loven, “Bush signs Syria sanctions bill,” Associated Press, 12 December 2003,
19 December 2003
In a surprise development, Libya announces that it will join the Chemical Weapons Convention, destroy its existing stockpiles of chemical weapons, and end its pursuit of all WMD, and long-range missiles.
—David E. Sanger, Judith Miller “Libya to give up arms programs, Bush announces,” New York Times, 20 December 2003, Section A p. 1,
22 December 2003
In the wake of Libya’s repudiation of WMD, reports emerge that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has ordered British diplomats to negotiate with Syria and Iran on a handover of their alleged arsenals of chemical and biological weapons. A British diplomat is quoted as saying: “We are engaged in similar processes to those which got results in Libya. There is a lot going on behind the scenes and we are hopeful of progress.”
—“Blair’s bid to rid Iran and Syria of WMDs,” The Daily Record (Scotland), 22 December 2003, p. 4,
23 December 2003
The United Kingdom indicates that it is trying to secure the support of France and Germany in order to apply pressure to Syria on the issues of WMD, terrorism, and Iraq. One goal of the proposed pressure is to secure Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It is also revealed that Britain and Germany have warned the European Commission, which recently completed technical discussions with Syria on a trade agreement that they want to see stronger language in the proposed agreement on the topic of WMD.
—Ian Black, “UK plan to pressure Syria on weapons,” The Guardian, 23 December 2003, p. 1,
24 December 2003
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is quoted as calling on Syria to emulate the example of Libya and repudiate its pursuit of WMD and support of terrorism. Powell adds that Syria needs “to get out of the hole that you have been in for all these years.”
—Maxim Kniazkov, “US advises rogue states to ‘get smart’ and follow Libya’s example,” Agence France Presse, 24 December 2003,
24 December 2003
Following a summit meeting in the Egyptian town of Sharm El-Sheikh, the presidents of Egypt and Syria issue a joint statement that includes language on the issue of WMD. “The two presidents underlined their call to eliminate weapons of mass destruction from the region and to work jointly to achieve this goal within the framework of the United Nations and other international bodies. Events in the region have shown the importance of making the Middle East, Israel included, a region free from all WMD.” The statement makes no mention of alleged WMD in either of the two countries and is generally perceived as directed at Israel.
—“Egypt, Syria presidents urge mideast free of weapons of mass destruction,” Agence France Presse, 24 December 2003,
29 December 2003
Syria uses its last days as a temporary member of the UN Security Council to push for a resolution calling for the creation of a zone free of WMD in the Middle East. The proposal is perceived as being aimed at Israel and only attracts the support of six of the 15 Security Council members.
—Peter James Spielmann, “Syria pushes “nuclear-free Mideast” Security Council resolution; diplomats say council divided, measure has scant hope,” Associated Press, 29 December 2003,
| TOTAL STRENGTH |
In addition to the regular strength of 293,200, it is estimated that reservists number 354,000, distributed as follows: army: 280,000; navy: 4,000; air force: 70,000. Conscripts serve for 30 months; women are not conscripted but may volunteer to serve.
|Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces:||President Bashar al-Assad|
|Minister of Defence:||Lieutenant General Hassan al-Turkmani|
|Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces:||General Ali Habib|
Ultimate authority rests with President Bashar al-Assad. Power is concentrated in the president and in the members of his inner circle, who include relatives and trusted senior officers, many of whom are members of the president's minority Alawite sect. The armed forces are structured so as to enable the regime to defeat any move to destabilise it. Elite, trusted units whose primary role is to defend the regime, are given the most advanced equipment available, whilst President Assad retains personal control of a number of units such as the Republican Guard.
When Bashar al-Assad became president in 2000 after the death of his father, he inherited a system of rigid control over the armed forces. The late President Hafez al-Assad ensured that only officers who were absolutely loyal were appointed to key posts. Not only were most senior officers drawn from Assad's Alawite sect, some were from his tribe, the Kalabiyya. Hafez tightened supervision over the forces by the integration of senior officers into the structure of the Baath Party.
The party is the primary means through which the regime controls the civil service and Syrian society generally. Within the army itself the highly-politicised high command lacks flexibility, with control of units and operations heavily centralised, affecting speed of reaction and operational efficiency. Senior officers were appointed more on the basis of loyalty and tribal/family connections rather than competence. Hafez also tended to keep them in their posts for very long periods, deepening a sense of stagnation in the forces. When Bashar acceded to the presidency, senior officers expressed firm support for the new ruler, who also 'inherited' the rank of commander of the armed forces.
The primary role of the armed forces of Syria is to protect the national territory from external attack and from occupation by foreign forces. In relation to this, regaining possession of the Golan Heights from Israeli occupation is a prime objective. Traditionally, the role of the armed forces has also included the duty of helping to further the struggle of the Arab states against Israel. As part of the struggle with the Jewish state, the Syrian armed forces have the objective of achieving and maintaining 'strategic parity' with the forces of Israel. An additional challenge facing Syria is the ousting by US-led invasion forces of the Saddam Hussein regime in neighbouring Iraq, which was seen by Damascus as equivalent to an Israeli victory against a fellow Arab, Ba'athist state.
There has been a major shift in Syrian military strategy since the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. During that conflict, much of Syria's air power was quickly destroyed in clashes with Israeli fighters, while it only took a few hours for Israel to overcome Syria's land-based air defences in Lebanon. Since then, Syria has placed greater emphasis on developing its surface-to-surface missile capability, the aim of which is to counter Israel's air superiority and acquire the capability to attack the Israeli rear, destroying its air bases and disrupting its mobilisation capability. Syria has also worked to improve its land-based air defence network.
With the defeat of Iraq in the 1990-91 Gulf War, the subsequent moves to dismantle Iraq's strategic weapons capability, and the ultimate overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime in 2003, there is no doubt that Syria is now pre-eminent among Arab states in terms of strategic weaponry. In his attempt to counter Israel's formidable strategic warfare machine, former President Hafez al-Assad invested heavily in building up Syria's arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), however, Syria's strategic weapon capability is still qualitatively inferior to that of Israel.
Syria does not normally discuss matters concerning its strategic weapon inventory.
Syria has built up a formidable arsenal of ballistic missiles through imports and domestic production. It is believed to have one of the biggest collections of ballistic missiles in the Middle East, with systems capable of delivering conventional and unconventional warheads against neighbours in the region, with a particular focus on Israel. The surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs), combined with a chemical weapons programme and possibly a biological weapons programme, are seen as attempts by Syria to achieve strategic parity with Israel's militarily superior armed forces. The development of a sizeable arsenal of ballistic missiles has enabled Syria, to some degree, to offset the advantage Israel holds in its air superiority and nuclear capability. In the event of war, Syria would probably seek to use SSMs to attack Israel's infrastructure, destroying air bases and disrupting the mobilisation of troops.
In April 2003 it was estimated that Syria had about 550 North Korean-designed 'Scud-B', 'Scud-C' and 'Scud-D' liquid-fuelled short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) variants with approximate ranges of 300 km, 550-600 km and 700 km respectively. In addition, Syria has some SS-21 'Scarab' missiles, as well as FROG-7 rockets. There are suspicions that Syria is seeking to deploy longer range missiles than the 'Scuds' already in its arsenal.
Syria received its first surface-to-surface delivery system from the Soviet Union as early as 1972, in the form of the FROG-7, capable of firing a conventional warhead up to a range of 70 km. During the 1973 war, Syria fired about 25 of these rockets into Israel, with most of them missing their intended targets. This rather bleak experience led the Syrians, after their disastrous result in the war, to procure more sophisticated surface-to-surface systems from the Soviets. As a result, during the 1970s, the Soviet Union shipped a significant quantity of 'Scud-B' missiles to Syria, with some estimates putting the number delivered at up to 200. By late 1983 the Soviets had also begun shipping SS-21 surface-to-surface missiles to Syria, the first time that this solid-fuel 120 km-range missile had been deployed outside the Warsaw Pact countries. Estimates of the number delivered varied from several dozen to 200.
In the late 1980s Syria was engaged in talks with China for the procurement of the solid-fuelled M-9 ballistic missile that was under development at the time, with a potential range of up to 600 km. A deal was concluded but Washington successfully pressed Beijing not to provide the missile, although, reports surfaced in the early 1990s that the deal may have been going through nonetheless. In November 1991 US Secretary of State James Baker, having pressed the Chinese on the issue, was again given the assurance that the missile would not be supplied. However, further reports indicated that the Chinese had secretly agreed to assist the Syrians in assembling their own version of the M-9 in facilities being established in Syria with North Korean assistance.
Syria stepped up its contacts with North Korea in the late 1980s, and went on to conclude a deal for the purchase of 150 'Scud-C' missiles, with deliveries reportedly continuing up to 1995. The 'Scud-C' is an improved version of the 'Scud-B', and is capable of delivering conventional or chemical warheads at a distance of up to 600 km. Syria wanted to develop its own missile production facilities, and arranged a deal with North Korea for the construction of two missile assembly and electronics facilities, one in Aleppo and the other in Hama. Iran and China have been providing assistance to the Syrian missile production and development programme being carried on at these centres. A third facility has been reported near Damascus.
The death of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in 2000 and the transition to power of his son Bashar did not appear to result in any diminution of Syria's ballistic missile development programme. Syria has in recent years fielded two brigades of 'Scud-Bs' and 'Scud-Cs', comprising several hundred missiles each capable of carrying Sarin based chemical weapons, according to US Department of Defense (DoD) officials. Each of these brigades is believed to be equipped with 12 mobile launchers and approximately 100 missiles. While the 'Scud-B' has a shorter range than the 'Scud-C', 'Scud-B' missiles are more accurate and could be better suited for attacks on Israeli military targets. The longer-range 'Scud-C' poses a threat to civilian targets as its chosen role would be to deliver a chemical warhead with the effect of inflicting mass casualties.
Because many of the older 'Scuds' Syria bought from the Soviet Union were ageing and Damascus lacked sufficient stocks of the liquid fuel to operate them, Syria has sought increased assistance from North Korea and Iran. Iran is thought to have provided help with liquid fuel production and possibly 'Scud' components. Meanwhile, the North Koreans have helped to give Syria the capability to indigenously produce complete 'Scuds' as well as to upgrade their range from the 'Scud-B' to the longer-range 'Scud-C'. More recently, Syria has been working to extend the range of its 600 km-range 'Scud-Cs' to 700 km, creating what Israeli officials have dubbed the 'Scud-D'. That missile trades a reduction in payload to approximately 350-450 kg, as well as degraded accuracy, for increased range.
In the longer term, Syria may be seeking a medium-range ballistic missile, possibly based on North Korea's No-Dong to meet Damascus' deterrent requirements vis-a-vis Israel and Turkey, or perhaps even vis-a-vis US forces in Iraq. Syria may also eventually seek solid-fuelled systems due to their greater military utility and ease of handling.
On 27 May 2005, Syria test-fired three 'Scud' missiles. According to Israeli intelligence sources, one of the missiles fired was a 'Scud B', which achieved a range of 210 km, and the other two were Syrian-made 'Scud Ds'. One was fired southwards to a target in the Syrian desert, achieving a range of 390 km, and the other one was fired westwards towards the Mediterranean but broke up while boosting above the Turkish province of Hatay. Its fragments fell on two Turkish villages without causing any damage. It appeared that the Syrians were trying to test the maximum 700 km range of the 'Scud D', a senior Israeli intelligence source told Jane's Defence Weekly (8 June 2005). He indicated that this was the first time Syria had launched a missile over another country's territory, and suggested that doing it above a NATO member was an attempt to defy the US and the UN, in the wake of the pressure that led Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon. All the missiles were launched from Minakh in northern Syria. Israel's Arrow batteries detected the launches and tracked the tests.
There is no evidence that Syria had made significant progress in developing nuclear weapons, however, it is believed that Syria has been building up the expertise and infrastructure necessary for a nuclear weapons programme. The government has been acquiring nuclear power facilities ostensibly for civilian use, but there are fears that they could be used for military purposes.
US officials are concerned about Syria's nuclear research & development (R&D) programme, and have been on the lookout for any indication of nuclear weapons activity or foreign assistance that could facilitate the development of a Syrian nuclear weapons capability. The Syrians have a Chinese-supplied 'miniature' 30 KW nuclear research reactor under IAEA safeguards at Dayr Al Hajar. Syria is a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has a standard safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). On the surface, Syria's nuclear facilities look safeguarded and legitimate, although rumours have persisted of an undercover nuclear weapons programme.
It is widely thought that Syria has worked on the development of biological and toxicological weapons agents such as botulism, ricin and anthrax, however no hard evidence has yet been produced to confirm that it has been manufacturing and stockpiling biological weapons.
It is thought that Syria has the most advanced chemical weapons programme in the Arab world. It originally acquired small quantities of chemical agents from Egypt just before the 1973 War. After the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 exposed serious shortcomings in the Syrian military machine, Syria took a renewed interest in the development of chemical weapons as a way of countering Israel's military strength. Syria is believed to have been producing chemical warheads at a number of locations.
In a report to the US Congress in 2003, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) claimed that Syria had been seeking chemical weapons-related precursors and expertise from foreign sources. The report said: "Damascus already holds a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin but apparently is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its chemical weapons programme, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment".
The US has long accused Syria of aggressively seeking to acquire or develop Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and their means of delivery, especially ballistic missiles. Two underground factories for the production of missiles have reportedly been built, one near Aleppo and the other near Hama (a third facility has also been reported near Damascus). The plants were constructed with the aid of North Korea, with Iran and China also providing expertise and technical assistance to the missile programme.
Syria was reported in recent years to be working on the development of a cruise missile that could deliver both conventional and unconventional warheads. The design may be based on the SS-C-1B 'Sepal' anti-ship missile. It is believed that Syria may also have tried to convert the latter missile and also the Almaz Volga-M (SA-2) surface-to-air missile and SS-C-3 coastal defence missile to carry chemical warheads. Furthermore there is a suspicion that some FROG-7 missiles, which Syria first acquired in the 1970s, have been fitted with chemical warheads. It has also been claimed that thousands of chemical bombs containing the nerve agents VX and sarin were produced for delivery by Syria's Su-20/22, MiG-23BN and Su-24 aircraft.
Syria has been accused of having one of the developing world's most extensive chemical weapons programmes. It is claimed that a facility near Homs produces petrochemical derivatives for ethylene, a mustard precursor, and alcohols, used to produce nerve agents. While Syria depends on imported pesticides, it has deposits of phosphates and produces about 20 per cent of the phosphate rock mined in the Middle East. Although phosphorus compounds are important for use in nerve agent production, it has not been proven whether a proportion of locally mined phosphate is allocated to the manufacture of chemical weapons. The CERS (Centre d'Etudes et de Recherche Scientifique) centre, a civilian research centre near Damascus, is a possible source for the procurement of dual-use chemical weapons technologies. Syria has also acquired dual-use technology and equipment from various European countries, as well as from India.
The failure to find the Saddam Hussein regime's WMD in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in April-March 2003, led to speculation that weapons had been smuggled over the border to Syria. There was a theory that a transfer of Iraqi weaponry and expertise could have significantly boosted Syria's strategic capabilities. Washington, however, did not directly accuse Syria of taking possession of Iraqi WMD. Instead, US officials limited themselves to accusing Syria of harbouring fleeing members of the Iraqi regime and developing their own WMD. Damascus dismissed these allegations, denouncing them as Israeli disinformation.
According to the final report of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) released on 25 April 2005, there was no evidence of Iraqi WMD having been transferred to Syria for safekeeping prior to the US-led invasion of the country in March 2003. The report stated that Iraqi officials, with whom investigators have spoken, 'uniformly denied any knowledge of residual WMD that could have been secreted to Syria'. The report also stated that investigators 'found no senior policy, programme, or intelligence officials who admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of WMD', but that they were 'unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials'.
|SS-1 'Scud-B' aka T7-B||Ballistic missile max range: 300 km payload: 985 kg||18 x launchers (estimated)|
|'Scud-C'||Ballistic missile max range 550-600 km Payload: 500 kg||N/A|
|Scud-D 1||Ballistic missile max range: 600-700 km payload: n/a||N/A|
|SS-21 'Scarab' aka Tochka||Ballistic missile max range: 120 km Payload: 480 kg||18 x launchers (estimated)|
|FROG-7||Unguided rocket max range: 70 km||18 x launchers (estimated)|
|M-9 aka DF-15||Ballistic missile max range: 600 km payload: 950 kg||N/A 2|