Syria has an awful lot of the stuff, produced or stored at about 50 different sites scattered around the country. Soon after Syria’s humiliation by Israel during a war in Lebanon in 1982, a WMD programme set out in a vain attempt to restore strategic parity. Since then, Syria has acquired (from allies such as Iran and North Korea, but also from a good number of supposedly respectable European companies) both the expertise and materials to create one of the world’s biggest arsenals of chemical weapons.
According to intelligence-based reports in the mid-1990s, Syria had accumulated hundreds of tonnes of skin-blistering mustard gas and sarin, a lethal nerve agent. It had also developed large stocks of VX, an even more deadly and persistent nerve agent than sarin. Weaponisation followed, with the manufacture of up to 200 chemical warheads for its Russian-supplied Scud-B and Scud-C missiles, as well as thousands of chemical free-fall bombs and artillery shells.
Intelligence sources believe that Syria, unlike Libya, has continued to replenish its arsenal (sarin and VX both have a limited shelf-life), smuggling a lot of stuff under cover of its legitimate pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industries, and spending as much as $2 billion a year on the programme. As far as biological weapons are concerned, there is evidence that Syria has researched their development, but it is not known whether it got further than it did with its nuclear ambitions, which were abruptly curtailed after Israel bombed its only reactor, at al-Kibar, in 2007.
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