Middle East Intelligence Bulletin
Jointly published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon and the Middle East Forum
  Vol. 2   No. 1

January 2000 


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Syria Continues to Bolster Chemical Weapons Arsenal

According to Western intelligence sources, Syria is continuing to perfect its arsenal of chemical weapons even as it inches closer to a negotiated settlement with Israel. The intent, it appears, is to strengthen Syrian proposals for a "comprehensive strategic package" whereby Israel agrees to give up its nuclear arms in return for a pledge by Damascus to dismantle its chemical and biological weapons.

Production of chemical warheads, procurement of missiles and rockets to deliver them, and testing of its chemical weapons systems are continuing unabated. Intelligence sources confirmed last year that Syria is still producing nerve gas and VX gas at a petrochemical plant located south of Homs.

The main focus in recent months, however, has been on perfecting delivery systems for chemical warheads. Syrian officials are said to have been extremely disconcerted by Israel's successful test of its Arrow 2 anti-ballistic missile system in October of last year. According to a report in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, the Syrian military recently performed a live drill with surface-to-surface missiles armed with chemical warheads.1

It is estimated that Damascus currently possesses 300-400 Scud B and Scud C missiles and around two dozen launchers, which are now much better protected after the construction last year of reinforced underground silos. Syrian technicians have recently carried out tests on modified Scud missiles using solid fuel, rather than liquid fuel, which increases the range of the missiles, improves their accuracy, and shortens the time interval between launches.2 Syria's development of the Scud-D, with has an extended range of 700 km and can be tipped with cluster warheads, is said to be about a year from completion.

Syria has also been experimenting with alternative methods of delivery. Less than three months ago, U.S. spy satellites detected a Syrian MiG-23 dropping chemical weapons on a practice range in Syria.3

Syrian military technicians are studying the conversion of outdated SA-2 and SA-5 surface-to-air missiles into surface-to-surface missiles. Converted SA-2 and SA-5 missiles cannot be used to effectively deliver chemical warheads, however. The intent is probably to fire them as decoys--flooding Israel's Arrow anti-Ballistic missile system with hundreds of conventionally armed missiles, diverting it from exclusively targeting incoming Scud missiles with chemical warheads. In addition, the Syrian army was recently armed with new long-range rockets (up to 150 km) with 40-50 kg conventional warheads.

  1 Yediot Aharonot, 27 December 1999.
  2 Yediot Aharonot, 24 December 1999.
  3 The Washington Times, 26 November 1999.

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