By Mitch Ginsburg and Adiv Sterman
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar Assad have used chemical weapons in over 30 cases since Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention last year and agreed to the destruction of its entire arsenal, a senior IDF officer said Thursday.
“From the day that he signed the deal, [Assad] has used chemical weapons over thirty times, and in every case citizens were killed,” the officer said, adding that the weapons were “tactically deployed” with mortars and short-range rockets.
According to the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Assad’s regime was now focused on developing “non-classic” unconventional weapons based on weaker gas such as chlorine.
“We cannot say which type of chemical weapons, but factually, we can say he has used what we call ‘non-classic’ substances, which, in the end, have killed citizens,” he said.
The officer asserted that although Syria’s joining of the Chemical Weapons Convention had significantly reduced the threat of a chemical attack on Israel, Assad still aimed to produce weapons that could be deployed despite Syria’s membership in the CWC.
“Our assessment is that [Assad] will attempt to retain a small stockpile, but he is constrained by the convention,” the officer said.
“That is why he is developing chemicals that, as I said before, are ‘non-classic’ — chlorine, for example, which can be found all over Israel or in any other country.”
Israeli intelligence exposed the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons early last year.
The Israeli army’s military intelligence analyst Itai Brun, in April 2013, delivered a bombshell lecture in which he declared publicly that Assad was using nerve gas against rebel forces: “To the best of our professional understanding, the regime has used lethal chemical weapons,” he said at the time, and specified that the IDF believed the toxic element was sarin.
He noted then that it had been used on more than one occasion, including in an attack on March 19, 2013.
His assertion was initially queried, but subsequently accepted, by US and other officials. The Israeli conclusion was “based on very special work,” by a team that “saw very clearly,” Brun later said.
Last week, the head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, announced the creation of a mission to “establish facts surrounding allegations of use of chlorine in Syria.”
He told a meeting of the body’s executive council at headquarters in The Hague that the mission would soon leave for Syria.
“The Syrian government, which has agreed to accept this mission, has undertaken to provide security in areas under its control,” the statement said.
The OPCW and the United Nations are already in the process of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons as part of a disarmament deal agreed to last August in the wake of deadly sarin nerve agent attacks outside Damascus.
The new probe comes after France and the United States alleged that Assad’s forces may have made tactical use of industrial chemicals on a rebel-held village in central Hama province last month.
France made the first claim last week, with President Francois Hollande saying his country had “information” — but no proof — that Assad’s regime was still using chemical weapons despite the deal.
The United States has said it was investigating the allegations.
“We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month, in the opposition-dominated village of Kafr Zita,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said on April 21.
There have been conflicting accounts of the alleged chlorine attack on Kafr Zita, with the government and the opposition trading blame.
Activists have also reported other chlorine gas attacks, most recently in Idlib province, in the northwest, two weeks ago.
Syria has surrendered all but eight percent of its chemical weapons under the terms of the US- and Russia-brokered deal, which headed off the threat of US military action last year.
AFP contributed to this report.