By Paul D. Shinkman
Kingston Reif, a director at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation advocacy group, says it is unsurprising the Islamic State would be interested in an unconventional tool for inflicting terror.
He also cautions against any assumptions that Syria now has a “clean bill of health” with regard to chemical weapons, given the discrepancies in the destruction of Assad’s declared chemical stockpiles and his “propensity to lie.”
The actual effectiveness of these kinds of attacks, however, remains unclear.
Connable points to the extreme difficulty in transporting and deploying chemical weapons. To be effective, such strikes require advanced training and launching equipment, creating a high risk for those handling them. When used it a battlefield context, a chemical attack also requires favorable wind and weather conditions.
“I’m not terrifically concerned about it,” he says, “except for the use in terror attacks.”
The Islamic State has already demonstrated its ability to use advanced armaments, and Reif worries about the dangerous combination of adding deadly chemicals to an improvised version of these weapons. He adds, however, that the international effort to rid Syria of its chemical weapons has greatly reduced that threat.
“Whatever they might have left is likely to be pretty small relative to their overall stockpile,” he says.
The significant chance of fatal error in an improvised chemical attack could chip away at one of the Islamic State’s most potent tools: its ability to win and hold public support.