The French, who have a long history with Syria, offered a somewhat more developed explanation for why they’re so sure that Bashar al-Assad should be held responsible for the August 21 attack even while someone in his Ministry of Defense appears to have been panicked and confused about the attack. (Note: Alan Grayson asked for this intercept to be declassified in today’s hearing, but Chuck Hagel seemed unenthused about that idea.)
Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people.
In their case for war they talked about how tightly controlled Assad’s Chemical Weapons are.
The Syrian chemical programme is centred around the Center of Scientific Studies and Research (CSSR), in charge among others of producing chemical warfare agents. Its Branch 450 is in charge of the filling of chemical ammunitions, as well as the security of chemical sites and stockpiles. Formed exclusively with Alawi officers, this unit is known for its high loyalty to the regime.
Bachar al Assad and some of the most influential members of his clan are the only ones empowered to order the use of chemical weapons. The order is then forwarded to the commanding officers within the competent branches of the CSSR. In parallel, the armed forces HQs receive the order, decide of targeting and of the choice of weapons and toxic agents to use.
While not definitive, it is a slightly more developed version of the argument that the US made.
Syrian President Bashar al-Asad is the ultimate decision maker for the chemical weapons program and members of the program are carefully vetted to ensure security and loyalty. The Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) – which is subordinate to the Syrian Ministry of Defense – manages Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Nevertheless, in the face of some questions about what the men in the CW unit were doing, both governments have offered simply an argument about how reliable the CW staffers are in this unit.
But that comes amidst what John Kerry claims is a big wave of defections. The most notable is that of General Habib Ali, Assad’s former Minister of Defense and like him an Alawite.
“Ali Habib has managed to escape from the grip of the regime and he is now in Turkey, but this does not mean that he has joined the opposition. I was told this by a Western diplomatic official,” Kamal al-Labwani said from Paris.