Industry Deals Fuel Syria Chemical Weapons Hysteria

Syria's Industry Ministry a 'Front,' Diplomats Claim

In between all of the other excuses people have come up with for invading Syria and installing some rebel bloc or other as the new regime, the question of chemical weapons always comes up. Syria is known to have them, but exactly how many is a matter of some dispute.

And speculation about how massive an arsenal they might have is rarely reality based. Today, the Washington Post reported that Syria has been expanding its arsenal dramatically over the past few years, citing unnamed diplomats who said the Syrian Industry Ministry was a “front” for buying chemical weapons equipment.

Since the tightly regulated Syrian economy requires virtually all foreign industrial purchases to go through that ministry, this boils down to an allegation that the sum of all of Syria’s industrial base is about chemical weapons.

The allegation rears its head pretty overtly, with comments about the European Union’s sale of large amounts of industrial gear to Syria, and the EU’s subsequent withdrawal of industrial attaches after imposing sanctions last year, to assume that all of that equipment is probably churning out chemical weapons.

Beyond that, it cites a WikiLeaks cable from 2006 which itself cites a Powerpoint presentation claiming that Iran had been trading “dual-use” equipment to Syria that could produce chemicals that, while not weapons themselves, are potentially the “precursors” to weapons.

Precursors of course covers a pretty broad field, and explicitly mentioned within is sodium sulfide, which is used in water treatment, paper production, and as the active ingredient in ingrown toenail medication. How any of this amounts to proof of a chemical weapons surge in Syria is unclear, and even though the WikiLeaks cable conceded that there was “no indication” that the dual-use chemicals were actually being used for chemical weapons, it seems more than capable of fueling the sort of blind fear useful in pushing an invasion.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of