'Pay no attention to the high explosives behind the curtain'
|Photo by: Reuters|
Let's look at the details.
Against his own defenseless people, poison gas definitely strikes fear and terror. It's insidious, unseen and causes agonizing death. As Assad himself has demonstrated, when chemical weapons are used in large amounts against a civilian population or compact army units, the results can be devastating. Even those protected by gas masks are not immune, since the really nasty chemicals can penetrate the skin.
But -- the use of poison gas, as the use of any terror weapon, cannot win the war for Assad. For that, he has bullets, planes, tanks, artillery, rockets and high explosives -- as much as he needs. These are called "conventional" weapons, and they have killed a hundred more times the number than those who succumbed to chemical weapons. Using conventional means, Assad's army and militias have blown apart, mowed down, dismembered, eviscerated, beheaded, raped and buried their opponents alive.
And while Assad was doing this, no one made a move to stop him. The Western powers, if that they can be called, only threatened to intervene when Assad used his chemical arsenal. The current agreement for him to dismantle these weapons makes no mention of the continuing "conventional" war. What a deal for the Damascus dictator! "I'm the good guy because I agree to give up my poison gas (which really doesn't do me much good), while you agree to let me fight this war, slaughter my own people to my heart's content, using only high explosives. Great! Where do I sign?" We needn't be too cynical to think that Assad had this in mind all along.
Against other countries which can fight back, such as Israel, chemical weapons also cannot bring victory. Known as the "poor man's weapons of mass destruction," they are not even close to matching the destructive power of nuclear weaponry, which Israel is rumored to possess. Poison chemicals can inflict terror and a horrible toll in human suffering, but the damage, as heartless as it sounds, is not permanent. Against Israel, Assad should know that he can use chemical weapons but once. That use would open the portals of permissibility for Israel to respond with a ferociousness that would not only end Assad's rule, but also the ability of Syria to function as a state.
In short, if Syria has chemical weapons but cannot use them with impunity, why bother keeping them -- especially if the government can benefit from getting rid of them? So watch the process of finding and then destroying Syria's chemical weapons to go slowly and methodically, but without interruption. In the meantime, the civil war will continue, with Assad's growing supremacy and little interference from the Western powers. They will be too focused on the chemicals to notice the pyrotechnics behind the curtain.
Doug Greener has an agency in Jerusalem for advertising and direct mail.