NBC Weapons: What Is Known About Nerve Gas In Syria

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NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS

May 1, 2013: In Syria the rebels have been accusing the government of using nerve gas shells and bombs. Israel is convinced that this is so, and the U.S. is inclined to agree with them. The known incidents occurred in the northern city of Aleppo where government forces are taking a beating. Syria insists that no nerve gas was used, but the nerve gas may have been ordered as a desperate measure to halt the advancing rebels, with instructions that “this never happened.” Israel insists it has definitive proof and apparently that is convincing many NATO members, including the United States. Moreover, a Syrian general defected in late April and said he was ordered to use chemical weapons against rebels in the southwest recently but fired shells with harmless chemicals instead. The general offered to reveal where he had buried the actual chemical shells.

Syrian nerve gas is stored at some fifty locations all over the country. A large number of troops are devoted to defending these stockpiles and some chemical weapons have been moved to avoid capture by the rebels. Officially Syria has no nerve gas, but the Assad government has recently made statements indicating that it is abandoning that fiction. Syria has maintained stocks of chemical weapons for decades as a last ditch weapon for any future war with Israel (which few Syrians believe could be won). Israel has prepared accordingly. Recently, Syria announced that it never had any intention of using nerve gas against Israel. This all gets even stranger as Israel has recently advised the United States to stay out of Syria, even if nerve gas is being used. That’s apparently because Israel wants to take care of this problem itself, as its Israeli civilians who are likely to die if Syrian nerve gas is captured by Islamic terrorists (who still want to use nerve gas against Israel).

Photos of dead civilians the rebels claim were nerve gas victims do show signs of nerve gas in use (foaming at the mouth and contracted pupils). The only way to obtain conclusive evidence is for someone to bring out the bodies of victims (or blood samples) and soil samples from the area where the nerve gas was used. If the rebels want to prove their accusations of nerve gas use they just have to collect these samples and get them out of the country. Apparently that has been done, at least to the satisfaction of Israeli intelligence. The U.S. said it would intervene militarily if Syria used chemical weapons but demands conclusive proof (blood and soil samples) before deciding and acting. Now the U.S. has apparently been shown evidence of Syrian use of chemical and is debating what to do about it.

If chemical weapons were used in Syria they would not be a show stopper. There is a lot of experience with mustard and nerve gas against troops, some of them as unprepared as civilians. What little is known in this area indicates that non-lethal doses of nerve gas make victims dizzy and disoriented, along with double vision and severe headaches. Nerve gas has its immediate effects and then either kills you or wears off, although some long term damage is suspected. Nerve gas shuts down the body's nervous system causing suffocation, etc. Sunlight causes verve gas to degrade quickly, with effectiveness quickly diminished by more than 60 percent. In practice nerve gas is not the most effective way to kill people, but it is among the scariest.

The Germans developed nerve gas during the 1930s. The Germans believed they had a true weapon of mass destruction, at least against dense, unprotected, populations. Nerve gases killed within minutes and could enter the body through the skin or inhalation. Minute quantities of nerve gas were needed to be effective, much less than previous poison gases. Although only the Germans had large quantities of nerve gas during World War II, they never used it because they feared the Allies had these easily manufactured nerve agents also. German nerve gas was developed from research done in the United States and Russia on insecticide. In effect, nerve gas is insecticide tweaked to work on mammals. This was one of the earliest "balance of terror" situations. Nerve gas would cause such massive casualties in urban areas that the Germans refrained from using it for fear that the Allies would do the same, especially after the Allied bombing of German cities got into high gear. They assumed that the Allies were following the same logic about non-use. This was a situation remarkably similar to current attitudes towards nuclear weapons.

Nerve gas was first used a lot in the 1980s, during the Iran-Iraq War. Some of the casualties were treated in Western hospitals, which provided much of the first-hand on the impact of these weapons against humans. Iraq used nerve gas against its rebellious Kurds in the late 1980s, killing some 5,000 civilians. The Japanese Aum Shinri Kyo cult used nerve gas in several terror attacks during the 1990s. Most of these attacks caused only a handful of injuries. But one Sarin attack, with gas released in five subway cars, killed twelve people and sent over 5,000 to the hospital (but only a fifth of these had noticeable nerve gas injuries). A few Iraqi nerve gas shells were used against American troops in 2004, but there were no fatalities.

 


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