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Hezbollah could take possession of Syrian chemical weapons

Iran is working to seize control of an extensive network of Syrian military industry facilities.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tehran on Feb 25, 2019. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with Syrian President Bashar Assad in Tehran on Feb 25, 2019. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Iran is working to seize control of an extensive network of Syrian military industry facilities, collectively known by their French acronym of CERS, or the Scientific Studies and Research Center in English, according to a report released on Wednesday by the Alma Research and Education Center.

The Alma Center is a defense research group that specializes in security challenges faced by Israel in Lebanon and Syria.

The report also warned of the possibility of Hezbollah taking possession of chemical substances present as CERS, which are being stored by the Assad regime, and using them to produce chemical weapons for use against Israeli military forces or civilians in a future conflict.

Israel Defense Forces Maj. (res.) Tal Beeri, head of research at the Alma Center, told JNS that “the prominent takeover of the Syrian defense industries by Iran is expressed through its takeover of CERS. Today, the Syrian CERS Center operates under full Iranian patronage.”

According to the report, CERS, which employs some 20,000 people—Syrian researchers, engineers and military officers—is spread out across Syria, and produces advanced weapons such as the “Fateh 110” surface-to-surface missile. The “Fateh 110” is at the heart of the joint Iranian- Syrian and Hezbollah precision-missile project, the report noted.

“In addition, the CERS Center is responsible for developing and manufacturing chemical, biological and potentially nuclear weapons,” it stated.

Iran views CERS as a “growth engine” for its own effort to develop and manufacture weapons on Syrian soil, based on Iranian technology, according to the report. As such, CERS is an opportunity for Iran to bypass the logistics and risks involved in transferring some of its weapons into Syria from Iran by land, air, or sea—efforts that are often targeted by Israel.

Iran’s goal in controlling CERS is to develop and manufacture precise missiles and rockets, cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles on Syrian soil, particularly using the CERS Institute 4000 at Masyaf, a well known trouble spot that has been reportedly targeted by Israeli air strikes in previous years.

Beeri noted that Institute 4000 has two Iranian coordinators allocated to the site.

The presence of a chemical program at CERS raises troubling scenarios, the report continued.

“Unlike the military nuclear project attempted by the Syrian regime with North Korean assistance, which was thwarted by Israel in 2007, the chemical program was never foiled, despite attempts to derail it,” it stated.

“We assess that the Syrian regime now possesses extensive chemical capabilities. The Syrian regime considers the stockpiles of chemical weapons in its possession and the threat they pose as a guarantee of its survival. At will, this capability may benefit the radical Shi’ite axis led by Iran in  general and Hezbollah in particular,” the report cautioned.

It added that “Hezbollah’s use of chemical weapons in the next confrontation with Israel cannot be ruled out. It is conceivable that missiles or rockets armed with chemical weapons (such as Sarin nerve gas) are being stockpiled for use by Hezbollah in one of the CERS center’s sites.”

Chemical substances stored at Masyaf could be transferred to Lebanon “if so directed,” said the report, adding, “We estimate with a high probability that in a situation of war, Israel will attack the chemical weapons stockpiles wherever they are, in Syria and/or Lebanon.”

The report went on to assess that Hezbollah likely has mortar shells and missiles designed for chemical warheads, which can be armed with the help of CERS.

According to IDF Lt. Col. Sarit Zehavi, president and founder of Alma, “During the next confrontation, would this type of weapon be used against the Israel Defense Forces or Israeli civilians by Hezbollah? And what would the risk be of another tragedy for Lebanese civilians like the Beirut Port incident?”

Beeri also noted that on February 27 this year, a Syrian colonel, an engineer named Ibrahim al-Muhammad, was killed in an explosion in his vehicle in a Damascus suburb.

“He was involved, in the context of the CERS Center activity, in the Syrian military chemical program,” said Beeri. “Why was he killed? Did the Syria regime eliminate him to cover up further tracks of its chemical program ahead of Syria’s return to the Arab League?”

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