One of the main targets of our air attack on Syria the other day was described by the Pentagon as a “scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area.” We attacked it because it’s “a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare.”
But how central is it to Assad’s chemical weapons program? If we can answer that question, we will have a better grasp on the likely utility of our attack.
Claudia Rosett takes up the question for PJ Media. Based on the Pentagon’s description, she believes with a very high level of confidence that the target was the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC).
According to Rosett, the SSRC is “an incredibly high-value target, an outfit central to some of the worst depravities of Assad’s weapons programs, and — as it happens — a longtime client of North Korea and Iran.”
The SSRC has been on the U.S. sanctions list for 13 years, first designated under the Bush administration in 2005, with periodic, horrifying updates under the Obama and Trump administrations, targeting its various fronts, procurement arms, officials and connections.
This is not just any old research center. According to the U.S. Treasury, it is “the Syrian government agency responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the missiles to deliver them.”
According to a 2012 Treasury press release, the SSRC was established in 1971, and while it operates with the camouflage of “an overtly promoted civilian research function,” its activities “focus on the development of biological and chemical weapons.” The same press release mentions the SSRC’s purchase through one front company of a precursor for soman nerve agent, plus its purchase from Iran, via another of its various front companies, of components used in the production of solid fuel for rockets.
Rosett says the SSRC remained active and in the chemical weapons business during the period when Russia assured us that 100 percent of the chemical weapons were gone from Syria. The Russians and Syrians must have had a good laugh at Barack Obama.
President Obama couldn’t attack the SSRC even if such a move had been in his playbook. Doing so would have amounted to a concession that Russia and Syria had played him (or, alternatively, that he and Russia had played the American people).
If Rosett’s reporting is sound, and I have always found it to be, President Trump should have attacked the SSRC last April when he hit that Syrian air base. Even so, he deserves credit for doing it now. As Rosett concludes:
If the SSRC was indeed struck and destroyed, the likely benefits are enormous. That would deprive Assad of one of the most diabolical laboratories of his evil regime, quite likely providing a big setback to his chemical weapons program, with the two-fer that it might also have zapped his bioweapons program.
It would also send a useful message to everyone from the SSRC’s suppliers, such as Iran and North Korea, to such predatory dictators as Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi Jinping. Destroying the SSRC with air strikes ought to drive home, in a way that no amount of UN debate and no quantity of sanctions designations ever could, that these days the U.S. and its allies are serious about their red lines.