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Updates: Syria Scud D - Range to 800 KM

Syria's strategic obsession is with Israel although it considers Turkey as a potential threat. It's strategic response to Israel's nuclear capability is an extensive CW arsenal. It has long seeked to move offensive capability deeper into the country. Syria possesses an unknown but significant quantity of its own variant of the Scud D missiles. Our Israeli industrial sources tied to the Arrow (defensive missile system) view the Syrian variant of the Scud D as a primary and formidable target in its newest form because it can be launched from considerable distance. The Israelis have been tracking its development. A number of these Scud Ds are believed to be programmed to hit Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona and its Jericho ballistic missile launch sites at the Sdot Micha airbase. Syrians now manufacture these missiles themselves, with North Korean, Chinese, and Iranian help. The North Korean contribution of guidance components make these missiles far more accurate than ever before.

Sources say Syria has been air-shipping a quantity of its Scud D missiles this year (2004) to Khartoum, Sudan where they are hidden in industrial warehouses because of fears Syria may next be a target of aggressive pressure from the U.S. for WMD inspections. We have this from industry sources. It appears to be tied to significant business dealings between Sudan and Iran. Syria has two large underground missile production facilities near Aleppo and Hama, both built with Iranian, North Korean, and Chinese assistance. Iran and Syria jointly produce Scud-C and Scud-D missiles. Syria is believed to have acquired the Chinese CSS-6 (DF-15 or East Wind 15; also known as the M-9) which is an advanced, solid-propellant, short-range ballistic missile. It has a range of 375 miles. It is a road-mobile missile, launched from a transporter-erector-launcher.


Executive Branch: chief of state: President Bashar al-ASAD (since 17 July 2000); Vice Presidents Abd al-Halim ibn Said KHADDAM (since 11 March 1984) and Muhammad Zuhayr MASHARIQA (since 11 March 1984)
head of government: Prime Minister Muhammad Mustafa MIRU (since 13 March 2000), Deputy Prime Ministers Lt. Gen. Mustafa TALAS (since 11 March 1984), Farouk al-SHARA (since 13 December 2001), Dr. Muhammad al-HUSAYN (since 13 December 2001)
cabinet: Council of Ministers appointed by the president
elections: president elected by popular vote for a seven-year term; referendum/election last held 10 July 2000 - after the death of President Hafez al-ASAD, father of Bashar al-ASAD - (next to be held NA 2007); vice presidents appointed by the president; prime minister and deputy prime ministers appointed by the president
note: Hafiz al-ASAD died on 10 June 2000; on 20 June 2000, the Ba'th Party nominated Bashar al-ASAD for president and presented his name to the People's Council on 25 June 2000
election results: Bashar al-ASAD elected president; percent of vote - Bashar al-ASAD 97.29%

Legislative Branch: unicameral People's Council or Majlis al-shaab (250 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve four-year terms)
election results: percent of vote by party - NPF 67%, independents 33%; seats by party - NPF 167, independents 83; note - the constitution guarantees that the Ba'th Party (part of the NPF alliance) receives one-half of the seats
elections: last held 30 November-1 December 1998 (next to be held NA 2004)

Defence Expenditures: - dollar figure: $921 million (FY00 est.); note - based on official budget data that may understate actual spending 
Defence Expenditures: - percent of GDP:  5.9% (FY98) 

Military Structure:

 President Asad is commander in chief of the Syrian armed forces, comprising some 400,000 troops and a substantial number of reservists. Males serve 30 months in the military upon reaching the age of 18. About 30,000 Syrian soldiers are currently deployed in Lebanon.

The break-up of the Soviet Union, long the principal source of training, materiel, and credit for the Syrian forces, has forced Syria to find other military suppliers. Syria has in recent years purchased tanks from Slovakia and Russia, howitzers from Bulgaria, and SCUD missiles from North Korea. Syria received significant financial aid from Gulf Arab states as a result of its participation in the Gulf war, with a sizable portion of these funds earmarked for military spending. Besides sustaining its conventional forces, Syria has sought to improve its unconventional weapons capability. While expanding its missile force, Syria continues to develop its chemical weapons capability.

Disputes: Golan Heights is Israeli-occupied; dispute with upstream riparian Turkey over Turkish water development plans for the Tigris and Euphrates rivers; Syrian troops in northern, central, and eastern Lebanon since October 1976; Turkey is quick to rebuff any perceived Syrian claim to Hatay province


Feb -2003  

Some U.S. intelligence agencies believe that rogue elements of Syria's ruling elite have accepted millions of dollars in bribes in return for providing a safe haven for some of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, according to former and serving U.S. officials.

Chemical and biological weapons were taken by truck to a Syrian munitions compound near a military base near Khan Abu Shamet, about 50 miles northeast of Damascus, these officials told United Press International.

The chief suspects in the operation are Bushra al Assad, the sister of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, and her husband Gen. Assaf Chawkat, the No. 2 in Syria's military intelligence organization, the Mukhabarat.

U.S. officials -- most recently President George W. Bush -- have charged that Iraq is moving around production and storage facilities for chemical and biological weapons to hide them from U.N. inspectors charged with disarming the regime.

The allegation that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein was trying to hide suspected weapons of mass destruction in Syria was first made -- somewhat hesitantly -- on Dec. 23 by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"We are in the process of verification of these (intelligence) reports," Sharon told Israeli television. "What we assume -- and again I say, we have not yet finalized the reports -- is that weapons that he (Saddam) wanted to hide -- chemical weapons, biological weapons -- were indeed transferred to Syria."

The claim was repeated and firmed up by his foreign minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, last month: "Those intelligence reports (about the alleged transfer) are solid," he said on Jan. 19, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

Missiles at the Ready

In late September 2000 Syria successfully tested its Korean Scud-D missile with a 360 mile range. The new Scud D, with a range of some 700 kilometers, gives Damascus the option of deploying missiles deeper into Syria to better protect them. In early July 2001 an Israeli radar picked up the launch of the Scud from the Haleb region, in northern Syria, and monitored its path until it landed some 300 kilometers away in the desert of southern Syria. As of late 2000 Syria is believed to have 26 Scud launchers and 300-400 Scud Bs and Cs. The Scud B is capable of carrying a 1,000-kg warhead up to 300 kilometres and the Scud Cs a 770-kg warhead up to 500 kilometres, putting virtually all of Israel under the Syrian missile threat. Although the Scud D has a longer range than the Scud-C, it has a lighter warhead and is less accurate.

The conflict with Israel makes it incumbent on Syria to foster and maintain a high level of operational preparedness, both to deter Israel and, if necessary, to launch effective strikes against it. (While Syria must also take into account two problematic neighbors, Turkey and Iraq, they take a back seat to Syria's strategic preoccupation with Israel.) Ballistic missiles are the backbone of the Syrian posture, so that missiles effectively shape Syrian strategic orientation and operational preparedness as a whole. Missiles, of course, can be equipped with a variety of warheads. But before examining these, just what are the delivery systems at Syria's command?

The Syrian missile command is based in Aleppo. It is known to control three mobile surface-to-surface missile brigades, each of which includes one battalion of (antiquated) FROG-7 SSM, one battalion of SS-21 Scarab SRBM, and one battalion of Scud-B missiles. The missiles in mobile brigades have ranges of 70 to 300 kilometers. Some sixty TEL (Transporter-Elevator-Launcher) vehicles provide mobility.

In addition to mobile brigades, Syria has recently constructed hardened silos and a deep network of tunnels. At least fifteen such underground installations, built with North Korean and Chinese assistance, are being readied for some 1,000 Scud-C missiles, which have a range of 500 kilometers.

An additional four tunnels have been built to house Scud-D missiles, which have the longest range in the Syrian arsenal, 700 kilometers. The Syrians now manufacture these missiles themselves, with North Korean, Chinese, and Iranian help. In May 2000, Syria was reported to have received deliveries from North Korea of a new ballistic missile based on the Scud-D, which has a modern navigational system, making it much more accurate than its predecessor.

Syria's acquisition of Scud-D missiles is significant because they allow Damascus to strike targets throughout Israel from launchers positioned well inside Syrian territory, and thus, less easily detected or attacked by Israel. The tunnels will provide a considerable degree of defense against conventional bombing for both the missile storage and maintenance facilities, and they are linked to a large number of camouflaged launch facilities. All types of Scud missiles are designed to carry, along with conventional warheads, chemical and biological warheads.

Syria has two large underground missile production facilities near Aleppo and Hama, both built with Iranian, North Korean, and Chinese assistance. Iran and Syria jointly produce Scud-C and Scud-D missiles. Syria is believed to be attempting to acquire Chinese medium-range ballistic missile technology in the form of the M-9 and may indeed have already acquired M-11 missile systems.

Most of the warheads fitted to these missiles contain conventional explosives for strikes against Israeli defensive positions and reinforcements in the Golan, or they are tipped with cluster bombs designed to put airfield runways out of commission. A number of the longer-range Scuds are apparently aimed at Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona and its Jericho ballistic missile launch sites at the Sdot Micha airbase. Airfields in general, plus other key military installations and major cities, are probable candidates for targeting as well. The Syrians believe that a massive and sustained missile assault against Israel's airfields could go some way to nullifying Israel's air supremacy by the destruction of aircraft, runways, and airfield infrastructure.

At the same time, nearly all of the missiles in the Syrian inventory, covering every range and payload, can be fitted with chemical or biological weapons. Just what has Syria accomplished in its efforts to built a non-conventional, missile-based deterrent?

A Chemical Present

In the early years, even before Syria had missiles, it built delivery systems for chemical weapons. Since the mid-1980s, Syria has manufactured varieties of aerial bombs containing sarin. According to Russian intelligence, Syria has a stock of thousands of chemical aerial bombs that are carried by Su-22, Su-24, and MiG-23 planes. Syria also has several thousand tactical munitions, including rockets and artillery shells containing sarin.

The rockets and shells have tactical value, as do the aerial bombs (which also have some strategic value). But the major leap forward towards creation of a strategic deterrent took place only when Syria began to amass chemical warheads for Scud missiles. Syria's adversaries were not capable then-and may not be capable now-of intercepting such missiles. To add to the deterrent power of the missiles, Syria moved to acquire the nerve gas VX, with the intention of deploying it in missile-borne warheads.

In contrast to sarin, VX has a high persistence and is much more lethal when encountered through the respiratory system and the skin. Since 1988, there has been a flood of reports confirming Syrian production of VX in plants located near Hama, Homs, and elsewhere. In 1998, U.S. Central Intelligence (CIA) affirmed that Syria had completed the development of more potent, more toxic, and more persistent nerve agents, referring, in fact, to VX.

Almost as soon as Syria had VX, Syria sought to load it in Scud warheads. The head of the Scud-B missile underwent experimental adaptations for carrying the large nozzles and dispersal mechanisms that are needed for chemical warfare agents, especially for spraying a persistent agent such as VX. Syria also began to explore the possibility of installing VX in short-range Soviet missiles already in Syria's possession-the FROG-7 and SS-21.

Syria is believed to have excluded all Westerners from its Scud VX weaponization project. Hence the importance of the first public reference by the Russian foreign intelligence service to Syria's offensive chemical capability, published in 1993. According to the Russians, Syria possesses between 100 and 200 chemical Scud-B warheads. Moreover, Syria has also armed some sixty Scud-C missiles with chemical warheads. And with the assistance of Russian specialists, Syria has developed a cluster warhead capable of delivering chemical or biological bomblets for the Scud-D.

At least one test firing of a Scud-C missile tipped with VX was conducted near Damascus in May 1998. Syria also conducted successful field tests of two indigenously manufactured Scud-D missiles armed with advanced conventional and non-conventional warheads in September 2000. In July 2001, a Scud-B missile carrying a chemical warhead was launched in a test flight from near Aleppo to a point just short of the Israeli border. Reportedly, Syrian sources confirmed the flight, explaining that this was "a message to Israel not to launch any attack on Damascus." Israel has received the message: the head of the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, told a June 2004 meeting of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization council that Syria had adapted sarin and VX to various Scud warheads (as well as to aerial bombs and rockets).

Syria's main objective according to all assessments is the completion of an arsenal of enhanced-range surface-to-surface missiles tipped with chemical and biological warheads. At present, the focus is on the installation of chemical warheads on the Scud-C, the Scud-D, and the anticipated M-9. Beyond that, the next stage might include cruise missiles that carry warheads with chemical or biological cluster munitions. (Syria apparently possesses SS-N-3b cruise missiles.)

A Biological Future?

At present, Syria's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) deterrent relies entirely on chemical weapons, which are immediately operational. But Syria is well aware that an optimal strategic deterrent should include biological warheads on long-range surface-to-surface missiles. Broadly speaking, biological weapons are considered significantly superior to chemical weapons and in some senses comparable to nuclear weapons. Syria is acting accordingly.

From bits and pieces of evidence, the following picture emerges. The Syrian biotechnological infrastructure is basically inferior, but as with chemicals, the Syrians have succeeded in creating a narrow bridgehead that enables them to progress from stage to stage. And as with chemicals, the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) in Damascus has taken the scientific lead through its biological department. An appreciable portion of the Syrian knowledge in the biological field was obtained by means of the Arab Science Week conferences, which the SSRC regularly organizes. The center's published studies point to work with germs and proteins, while the center's scientists have trained in France in the fields of toxinology and virology. The SSRC and the Syrian Center for Marine Research in Lattakia also cooperate, most probably in the investigation of lethal toxins that are derived from marine animals and plants.

Syrian attention has focused primarily on two bacterial agents, anthrax and cholera, as well as two toxins, botulinum and ricin. Anthrax is an easily grown, deadly germ with maximal stability under extreme conditions (during storage, delivery, and in the field). Cholera is a contagious bacterium, suitable for contaminating food and water supplies, producing violent alimentary epidemics. Botulinum is an extremely toxic protein (derived from a germ) whose toxic power exceeds that of any other substance, natural or synthetic. Ricin is a lethal protein (derived from beans of the castor-oil plant, easily grown in Syria) that offers an optimal relation between cost and toxicity.

In regard to anthrax, Syria has some ongoing experience in the industrial cultivation of germs and viruses for the civilian production of anthrax (and smallpox) vaccines. And while evidence is sketchy, Russian experts hired by Syria are reportedly engaged in cultivating a highly virulent anthrax germ for installation in missile warheads. While Syria has concentrated on anthrax and cholera germs, it has also done work on the brucella germ, establishing a biohazard facility for this pathogen as well as isolating it from sheep. Pasteurella, another bacterial pathogen related to the causative agent of bubonic plague, has also been investigated in Syria. The smallpox virus, which is considered a very reliable and effective biological weapon, last visited Syria in 1972. It is assumed that with its development and production as a biological weapon by Russia, it was secretly delivered to Syria.

It is believed that production facilities for chemical weapons, in the Aleppo area and at other sites, also include wings for biological weapons. An additional facility for biological weapons has been reported in the village of Cerin, alongside facilities for the development and production of medicinal preparations.

Syria has also shown great interest in dispersal methods. At the SSRC, a high-capacity sampler for aerosol particles was developed that was used in fieldwork that dealt with the analysis of micronic particles. Such samplers are extremely useful in field-testing biological weapons. Knowledge with operational value on dispersal techniques was also acquired in the framework of research on the packing, release, and effects of weed-controlling material in a polymer format. This technique, called micro-encapsulation packing (in tiny capsules), enables the controlled and ongoing dispersal of biological (and chemical) warfare agents under unfavorable environmental conditions. Scientists from Aleppo University and Germany worked on the project.

Syria would claim that all its biological research is for peaceful purposes. Syria's official position on biological weapons is that it "supports very close international cooperation in the field of biological activities for peaceful purposes, which is certain to strengthen the influence and the realism of the Biological Weapons Convention." In fact, Syria has had rudimentary biological weapons in its possession since the early 1990s. Syria-together with Iran, Iraq, Libya, Israel, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Russia-is currently considered to be a biological weapons possessor or developer by the United States.

The Syrian military is also beginning to plan the eventual integration of biological weapons in its tactical and strategic arsenals. In April 2000, Syrian defense minister General Mustafa Talas published a lengthy article entitled "Biological (Germ) Warfare: A New and Effective Method in Modern Warfare." (Interestingly, the article was published in Persian translation in Tehran, the key Muslim strategic ally of Damascus.) All indications suggest that Syria's ultimate objective is to mount biological warheads on all varieties of the long-range surface-to-surface missiles in its possession. This is a goal that can probably be achieved within a few years, and it may already have been realized in part.


Very Rough Regional Relationships

  Iraq Iran Jordan Saudi Arabia Syria Turkey
Defence Spending (USD) $1.3 billion (2000) $9.7 billion (2000) $757 million (2001) $18.3 billion (2000) $921 million (2000)1 $8.1 billion (2004)
Defence Spending as a % of GDP   3.1% 8.6% 13% 5.9% 4.5%
Manpower Fit for Service 3,430,819 11,192,731 1,073,991 3,359,849 2,539,342 11,623,675
  • Syria is working on establishing a solid-propellant rocket motor development and production capability, with help from outside countries such as North Korea and Russia.
  • Damascus already has a stockpile of the nerve agent sarin, and it would appear that Syria is trying to develop more toxic and persistent nerve agents. Syria remains dependent on foreign sources for key elements of its CW program, including precursor chemicals and key production equipment. It is highly probable that Syria also is developing an offensive BW capability.

    Syria - an NPT signatory with full-scope IAEA safeguards - has a nuclear research center at Dayr Al Jajar. In January 2000, Russia approved a draft cooperative program with Damascus that included cooperation on civil nuclear power. Broader access to Russian expertise could provide opportunities for Syria to expand its indigenous capabilities, should it decide to pursue nuclear weapons. We will continue to monitor Syria's nuclear R&D program for any signs of weapons intent.

    During the first half of 2001, Damascus continued work on establishing a solid-propellant rocket motor development and production capability with help from outside countries. Foreign equipment and assistance to its liquid-propellant missile program - primarily from North Korean entities, but also from firms in Russia - have been and will continue to be essential for Syria's effort. Damascus also continued its efforts to assemble - probably with considerable North Korean assistance - liquid-fueled Scud C missiles.

    Syria continues to acquire relatively small quantities of ACW - mainly from Russia, other FSU suppliers, China and Iran. But Damascus' outstanding debt to Russia and inability to fund large purchases have hampered negotiations for the large quantity of equipment Syria needs to revitalize its aging defense forces. Damascus is interested in acquiring Russian SA-10 and SA-11 air defense systems, MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters, and T-80 or T-90 main battle tanks, as well as upgrades for the aircraft, armored weapons, and air defense systems already in its inventory. Syria's Defense Minister met with high-level Russian officials in Moscow in May 2001 to negotiate a new military-technical cooperation agreement or arms contracts and address the debt issue, but no new agreements have been completed
  • MOSCOW TO HELP MODERNIZE SYRIAN ARMY. Senior Russian officials, including Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo, told visiting Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlas that Russia stands ready to help Damascus modernize its military, reported on 23 May 2001. Syria's military is largely equipped with aging Soviet-era weapons.
  • Syria has a mature chemical weapons program, begun in the 1970s, incorporating nerve agents, such as sarin, which have completed the weaponization cycle. Future activity will likely focus on CW infrastructure enhancements for agent production and storage, as well as possible research and development of advanced nerve agents. Munitions available for CW agent delivery likely include aerial bombs as well as SCUD missile warheads. Syria has not signed the CWC and is unlikely to do so in the near future. 
  • Syria has been producing chemical warfare agents and munitions since the mid-1980's. While the Syrian program was "quite closely held," former CIA Director William Webster told a Congressional panel in 1989 that the CIA had determined foreign assistance was of "critical importance in allowing Syria to develop its chemical warfare capability. West European firms were instrumental in supplying the required precursor chemicals and equipment. Without the provision of these key elements, Damascus would not have been able to produce chemical weapons". 
  • In addition to mustard gas, Syria is known to be manufacturing nerve gas agents, and can pack CW agents into a wide variety of munitions, including ballistic missiles. Israeli intelligence analysts believe that Syria is actively seeking to manufacture VX agents, which are several magnitudes more powerful than other nerve agents. Syria's current CW stockpiles have been estimated at "several thousand aerial bombs, filled mostly with sarin," and between 50 to 100 ballistic missile warheads. 
  • Syria first acquired CW artillery shells as a "gift" from Egypt just prior to the 1973 war. Shortly thereafter, Syria purchased defensive chemical warfare gear from the USSR and from Czechoslovakia. However, the Soviets are said to have consistently refused to provide manufacturing processes or assistance in building CW facilities in Syria. 
  • Israeli intelligence analysts have expressed their concern with the rapidity and ease with which the Syrians have been able to obtain the know-how to produce VX nerve gas. Secretly assisted by Russian chemical experts, the Syrian military research and development and industrial complex known as the Scientific Studies and Research Center had little trouble getting the required expertise, technology and materials from Russian sources. 
  • General Anatoly Kuntsevich, Russian President Yeltsin's personal adviser on chemical disarmament and Russia's highest official authority on the subject, was dismissed from his position for suspicion of smuggling nerve gas precursors to Syria in early 1995. 
  • General Kuntsevich admitted in an interview in 1998 with the New York Jewish weekly The Forward that shipments to Syria of small amounts of nerve gas components had indeed taken place. According to him, however, these shipments were only intended for "research purposes" and had been authorized by the Russian government under previously undisclosed terms of a treaty with Syria. The materials shipped to Syria were intended for the production of the Soviet/Russian version of the VX nerve agent - code-named Substance 33 or V-gas. Such a deal might have been made in the early '90s or late '80s during a visit to Syria by the then-commander of the Russian Chemical Corps, General Pikalov. 
  • Western suppliers
    Syria's principle suppliers of CBW production technology were large chemical brokerage houses in Holland, Switzerland, France, Austria and Germany, including many of the same companies that were supplying Iraq. 
  • At least one German company, Schott Glasswerke, has been subjected to an official inquiry, for its delivery of glass-lined reactor vessels, sarin precursors and production equipment to a suspected Syrian poison gas plant. And one French source suggests that the United States may have supplied Syria with precursors and CW production equipment prior to 1986, at a time when Syria was subjected to international sanctions for its attempt to plant a bomb on an El Al plane in London. 
  • Syria has remained far more discreet in its purchasing patterns than either Iran, Iraq, or Libya. As one senior intelligence analyst explained, Syria considers chemical and biological weapons as "strategic" systems, meaning they are intended more as a deterrent than for recurrent, tactical use on the battlefield. Instead of producing large quantities of CBW agents, Syria is seeking to develop a smaller but high quality arsenal, which it can deliver accurately against military targets. 
  • Syria's French Connection
    France has played the key role in building up Syria's very well developed pharmaceuticals industry. With the active encouragement of the French embassy in Damascus and French government export credits, the biggest names in the French pharmaceuticals industry flocked to Damascus in the 1980s. Many of them opened branch offices and built production facilities in Syria, to make French pharmaceuticals under license. As a result, the French increased their share from 13.11% of Syria's pharmaceuticals imports in 1982 to 23% by 1986. This was all the more unusual since Syria was expanding its domestic production and therefore importing less during this same period. 
  • The French government screens exports to determine whether goods proposed for sale to Syria, Iran, Libya (and other countries) merit review because of proliferation concerns. While France has been applying the guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the Missile Technology Control Regime for several years, she only began applying controls on production equipment that could go into a chemical weapons plant in early 1992. "Only in the past six months has there been a universal will to impose this type of controls," a senior French foreign ministry official said in May 1992. "Before then, CW production equipment was freely available." 
  • Like Britain and Italy, France has been unwilling to impose unilateral export controls on CW production equipment without an internationally-accepted control regime, so French companies could not accuse the government of putting them at a disadvantage on lucrative Third World markets. The Australia Group, which oversees the control of CW precursors, only finalized a list of production equipment that should also be subjected to international controls in late 1991. It was only adopted (after stiff opposition from France and Great Britain) in June 1992. 
  • "Every day I sign off on export licenses," another senior French licensing official present at the same forum said, "and I wonder whether I have not just signed my resignation. In the area of chemical weapons manufacturing equipment, it is totally impossible to distinguish between civilian and military end-use," he admitted. "The equipment is strictly identical."