On Nov. 20, the Saudi Al-Hadath news website published a report claiming to detail an Iranian plan to supply rockets—with chemical warheads—to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
According to the report, the rockets are stashed at the Masyaf area in northwestern Syria, and are due to be transferred to Al-Qusayr in the western part of the country, and then to the Bint Jbeil area in south Lebanon, via the Beka’a Valley.
The name Masyaf might ring a bell for those following Israel’s campaign against Iranian activity in Syria. On Aug. 25, international media reported that a facility at Maysaf belonging to the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), better known by its French name, CERS, was hit by an airstrike.
However, according to IDF Maj. (res.) Tel Beeri, head of the Alma Center’s Research Department, which specializes in the Syrian and Lebanese arenas, while the report’s claims with regard to chemical weapons smuggling should be taken with a grain of salt, the scenario of Hezbollah using crude chemical warheads is not imaginary.
“The geographical area described in the [Al Hadath] report … makes sense. That is the area of the Iranian land corridor used to smuggle weapons to Syria and Lebanon,” said Beeri. Nevertheless, he continued, “Al-Hadath is a Saudi media platform whose sources of information are questionable. It is also well known that the Saudi authorities employ Al-Hadath to disseminate material in order to gain influence.”
But regardless, he said, Hezbollah could well assemble rockets that employ the readily available chemical chlorine, he said. Hezbollah would not need to smuggle chlorine to Lebanon from Syria, he noted.
“We’re not talking about mustard gas or sarin. Chlorine is commonly utilized in civilian industry,” said Beeri. “One does not have to be a rocket scientist to place it in shells or rockets.”
Throughout the Syrian civil war, Islamic State deployed chlorine gas in Syria. When it comes into contact with the human body, it causes chemical burns, and in some cases, can also cause asphyxiation.
“One can see what chlorine does by examining the industrial accident that occurred at Jordan’s Akaba port in June this year. A chlorine tank exploded, and within seconds, the chemical spread, killing 12 people and injuring 250,” said Beeri.
“This is a simple and rudimentary tactic, but it has the potential to cause harm,” he added.
The Syrian military also placed chlorine in shells and rockets, as well as in barrel bombs dropped from helicopters during its war against rebel forces, in Duma in April 2018, and in Idlib in September 2018, said Beeri.
“Hezbollah does not require assistance from Syria to do this,” he added.
“We cannot rule out the prospect that Hezbollah may employ chemical weapons tactically in the next conflict with Israel. The most likely candidate is chlorine. If this happens, it will likely be limited use, whether by shells or rockets, when Hezbollah’s back is against the wall,” he stated.
The most likely targets would be Israel Defense Forces units maneuvering in Lebanon, according to Beeri, as well as forces stationed on the border. “The excuse would be that it’s being used to defend Lebanon,” he said.
The goal of such a last resort would be to instill fear and create a victory picture for Hezbollah, which is likely aware that such an attack would trigger severe and potentially unprecedented Israeli retaliation.
The Israeli home front would not likely be targeted, Beeri argued.
“Hezbollah is ideologically radical and dedicated to Israel’s destruction, but it is not foolish. As a result, any use of such weapons would be limited, against IDF movements,” he said.
The IDF, for its part, may need to take into account a scenario in which Hezbollah, in distress, could deploy chemical substances against its forces in a certain manner, and this scenario warrants preparations, he said.