July 30, 2006: Syria may not have nuclear weapons, but it has created a force of ballistic missiles equipped with chemical (nerve and mustard gas) warheads. Syria is believed to have about 1200 ballistic missiles. About 85 percent of them are SCUDs, and most of these are improved designs from North Korea and Iran. The main improvement is a larger fuel tank, giving these missiles a range of about 700 kilometers. This allows them to reach anywhere in Israel. About 15 percent of their missiles are more modern (solid fuel) Russian SS-21s. But these only have a range of 70 kilometers. Thus the Syrians have about 600 missiles with a range of 700 kilometers, another 400 with a range of 300-400 kilometers, and about 200 with a range of 70 kilometers. All these missiles carry a half ton warhead. And some of these warheads carry nerve gas or mustard gas.
There are about 70 mobile launchers for the SCUDs, and about as many for the smaller SS-21s. The SCUD launchers, and support vehicles, are hidden in fifteen or more tunnel complexes. A major disadvantage of the SCUDs is that they take over an hour to fuel and get ready for firing. Some of the liquid fuel is poisonous, and the crews have to be careful while handling it. While there are some underground SCUD launching facilities, these are probably known to the Israelis, and likely to be bombed early in any conflict. That's why the 70 mobile launchers are so important. These will be much sought after by Israeli aircraft, UAVs and satellites.
Israel also has an anti-missile system (Arrow) that can knock down a few SCUDs at a time. If the Israelis can destroy most of the mobile launchers, and underground launch sites, that might be enough to avoid getting hit with chemical warheads.
These ballistic missiles are really the only reliable weapon Syria has. Poverty, and the end of Cold War era handouts from Russia, has led the 220,000 man Syrian army to decline in quality. The Syrian air force has sunk even deeper. The Syrian forces were never all that great to begin with. But now, all they can do is threaten Israel with chemical warheads carried on ballistic missiles. The United States has threatened to reply with nukes if anyone uses chemical weapons against U.S. troops or civilians. It's unclear if Israel would respond the same way. The Israeli armed forces could roll over the Syrian army and capture all of Syria in short order. The threat of Israeli war crimes trials against Syrian leaders (who survived the Israeli offensive), might be the ultimate deterrent.
NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS