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Former Mossad Chief Yatom: Israel Must Be Prepared to Take Out Syria’s CBW Threat

Former Mossad chief, Danny Yatom

Former Mossad head Danny Yatom’s comment captured in a Sky News  interview  about the  threat  of Syria’s  Chemical and Biological Warfare (CBW)  arsenal falling into terrorist hands mirror warnings that we  and former  Israeli diplomat  Lenny Ben David made earlier this year.   An Algemeiner article, noted Yatom’s concerns about Syria’s CBW capabilities:

“The conventional wisdom should be that we cannot exclude a non-conventional attack on Israel.” said Yatom in an interview with British news network Sky News. “We would have to pre-empt in order to prevent it. We need to be prepared to launch even military attacks… and military attacks mean maybe a deterioration to war.”
Syria has numerous chemical weapons production sites, including Al Safiria and Lataka, and its combined output of bio-chemical arms, including mustard gas and the nerve gases VX and Sarin, has secured the country one of the largest stockpiles in the Middle East. Many dual-use civilian pharmaceutical laboratories also have the capabilities to produce bio-weapons, including anthrax and botulism. The successfully weaponized chemicals are installed into the heads of war-missiles, whose delivery systems can reach the entire Israel, said Sky News.
Syria’s bio- weapons are a potential threat to Israel because of Syria’s avowed support of the Lebanese Islamist movement Hezbollah. The fear is that the Syrian government under president Bashar al-Assad will supply terrorist groups with chemical weapons that can be used against Israel. Israeli officials are also concerned because of Syria’s political upheaval; a collapse like that of Libyan dictator Muamar Qaddafi of last year could allow Syrian rebels to access chemical weapons. Many storage and production sites are also located in suburbs of the nation’s capital, making them particularly vulnerable to seizure by dissidents.

The reports yield a bleak prognosis that is difficult to strategize against. Syria’s weapons are excessive in number, pervade the entire region, and are heavily defended by the Syrian army which is said to number 100,000 troops. According to a Pentagon study, uprooting Syria’s arsenal would require troops numbering 75,000.

“The truth is that no one has much of a clue what to do about Syria – it’s too well defended and too full of weapons of mass destruction to mean that there can be any meaningful military intervention.”

Here is what we wrote in a February 2012 post on the Syrian CBW threat that bears repeating:

We had written as early as December 2007 on Syria’s vast bio-warfare establishment and its threat to Israel and the West if these unconventional weapons fell into terrorist hands, especially Hezbollah and Hamas –see “Syria's Bio-Warfare Threat: an interview with Dr. Jill Dekker”.  In August 2011, we also probed the Syrian capability to deliver unconventional weapons in our discussion of “The Iranian Missile Threat.”

Last year in an exchange of email on this topic, Prof. Barry Rubin called the 2007 NER Syrian bio-warfare expose, “breathtaking”.

We noted at the time in our interview with Dr. Jill Dekker the threat to Israel and even here in the US if Syria’s unconventional weaponry fell into terrorist hands:

Dr. Dekker’s answers give a foreboding picture of how large and refined the Syrian bio-warfare programs are and how little Western Intelligence knows about how the programs were developed.  The potential exists for a significant WMD threat in the Middle East and the West, especially, against America.  Syria is a proxy ally of Iran, North Korea (DPRK) and terror groups such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Thus, the supply of bio-weapons and delivery platforms that could results in mass casualties makes it a real and present danger.

Note this exchange with Dr. Dekker on the incorporation of Syria’s advanced bio-warfare capabilities into its defense system:

Gordon:  What have your investigations revealed about the level of commitment and investment in Bio-warfare programs by the Syrian military establishment?

Dekker:  Contrary to how the US State Department and other agencies tend to downplay the sophistication of the Syrian biological and nuclear programs, they are very advanced. Syria has always had the most advanced chemical weapons program in the Middle East.  The US and other western agencies have in a sense been distracted by this, but their biological programs and the “concept of use” are robust. Syria’s biological weapons capability today is closely tied to the former and current Soviet and Russian programs respectively, the DPRK, Iran and the former Iraq regime. A major concern is their strategic concept of use - which has gone from one of ‘special weapons’ to incorporation into their ‘conventional arsenal.’

        [. . .]

Syrians cannot reach parity with US and Israeli conventional weapons. However, they view their bio-chemical arsenal as part of a normal weapons program.  This is a huge shift in thinking by the Syrian military.  It means they condone the use of biological pathogens as 'offensive' weapons. NATO and the United States should be very concerned about that re-designation.

Then there is this about the threat to the IDF:

Gordon: How much of a threat is the Syrian Bio-warfare capability to Israel and US forces in the Middle East, e.g. Iraq?

Dekker:  Syria poses an immediate and imminent threat to the United States and Israel. The most likely use of their biological weapons arsenal against Israel would be to reduce IDF fighting forces prior to an attack on the Golan. It’s conceivable they could incapacitate the IDF for a few days even with non-lethal pathogens or repetitively weaken civilians in Lebanon, where the water supplies are unprotected. This could be an optimum use of their bio-arsenal. That might not be as catastrophic as some fear, but it would be very effective. Obviously, there are more serious scenarios one can imagine in terms of deniability, if they have produced vaccines to protect their military and maybe their civilians against more lethal strains of virus such as smallpox.

And this comment about the relative lack of US understanding about Syria’s bio-warfare capabilities:

Gordon: How much does the US Bio-warfare establishment and intelligence community know about the Syrian Bio-warfare threat?

Dekker:  It is similar to the US negligent underestimation and denial that the Soviets had a massive biological weapons program.  The US Intelligence Community negligently underestimates and denies the sophistication of the Syrian biological weapons programs which is very unfortunate. I think it has been very difficult for the US Intelligence Community to procure knowledgeable sources due to internal institutional problems. Former US Ambassador to the UN, John Bolton has tried since 2001 to warn the US about the threat the Syrian biological weapons programs poses. His warnings have fallen on deaf ears. I hope Israel is helping the United States because it would appear the US is really not up to this challenge.

Ben-David’s concerns reflect those of Dr. Dekker from our 2007 interview.  The issue is what Israel can do about destroying these unconventional warfare caches in Syria?  This is especially concerning given the question of whether the Assad regime can survive via bloody repression of its people. Even more sinister elements like the Muslim Brotherhood leaders of the Syrian National Council could control the country should Assad be toppled. 

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