By Kyler Ong
The Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi said Monday that his country possesses chemical and biological weapons which will be readily used against any “external aggression” (but not its own civilians) should the situation arise. While this may be an attempt from the Assad regime to reaffirm its military prowess amidst recent events that have demonstrated a growing rebel strength, such a statement has a stronger implication that the Assad regime has been heavily weakened militarily by rebel actions. In any case, the regime’s seemingly bold assertion is all but a weak effort to employ a “carrot and stick” strategy to deter international intervention.
An Unprecedented Challenge
Makdissi’s remark came after months of international deliberation (and suffice to say, stalemate) over the option of foreign military intervention and recent weeks of Syrian rebels gaining control of rural areas and border towns. Furthermore, the bombing of the National Security building last week which killed three senior ministers could also be an implication of rebels capable of sporadic attacks through the infiltration into Assad’s inner core, possibly a result of recent defections from the Syrian government. Although an independent verification of whether the attack has been carried out by the opposition or by the regime itself which wants to demonstrate intolerance to defection is restricted, the nature of the attack seeks to reinforce the picture of what seems to be the opposition gaining momentum and how they finally present an unprecedented challenge to the regime after 16 months of infighting [it is however imperative to note that this does not mean that the rebels are going to win the war anytime soon. External aid must continue to play a key role in order to realize that scenario. Evidently, the rebels remain weak and fragmented]. Suffice to say, the threat that the regime is quickly depleting in military strength has forced it to issue a preventive ultimatum in order to deter any foreign intervention, whereby its downfall would be imminent, if not inevitable.
The Threat of WMD
In regards to the credibility of the regime’s assurance of the no use of WMD on its civilians, whether the regime will resort to the use those weapons is highly debatable. It seems like a weak effort to employ the “carrot and stick” strategy, whereby if the international community does not interfere in Syria, the regime will spare its civilians of its deadly weapons. Contrary to its intention, such a move will backfire for several reasons: One, the world is aware that the regime is capable of using any means to get rid off its opponents. Two, the threat of a regime clad with WMD which sponsors terrorism (and which is also a friend of Iran) gives the international community another reason to interfere, whether through direct or indirect military assistance. We know for sure that some Arab countries are providing military aid in the forms of equipments and fundings, and even the US is covetly aiding the rebels. Whether this episode will increase support for Syrian rebels is something we will have to keep watch. Regardless, Syria will have to tread carefully on this note or it will face serious international repercussion should it decide to activate its stockpile of WMD.
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