For the recent chemical attack in Syria, most claim Assad did it, some claim it was an accident, and some claim it was a false flag operation.

However, what realpolitical reasons could Assad have in launching such an attack, considering that:

  • it was at a relatively small scale, with less than 100 dead, so it would certainly not be crucial in completing a military objective which couldn't be completed otherwise
  • there is a strong international condemnation of chemical weapons, creating a lot of bad press for them and giving propaganda opportunities to their enemies
  • it could give a casus belli for foreign powers critical of Assad to get involved deeper in the conflict.

What could Assad realistically hope to gain from launching such an attack?

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    He would gain nothing. The so called rebels would have everything to gain. The rebels would be idiots not to carry out chemical attacks, knowing that U.S would respond without any investigations. Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 17:08
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    @dan-klasson - That would be the "false flag" option. I recommend writing an answer saying that there wouldn't be any reason.
    – Bobson
    Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 17:59
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    @Bobson Yeah I had that thought too, although that wouldn't really answer the question. But right now I have no reason to believe that any false flag operation was carried out. The Russian version that they bombed a munition building with chemical weapons in it seems a lot more plausible, especially knowing that when the Syrian regime turned over the chemical weapons in 2013, with the subsequent inspections, it did not include rebel controlled areas. So it's quite reasonable to assume that there would still be some chemical weapons out there. Commented Apr 9, 2017 at 18:10
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    I think there is evidence for possible false flag. As MIT professor analyzed, ammunition footage shown by rebels didn't burst inside out, as bombs do, it rather was an external artifact which exploded. Some rebels affected by the gas reported the smell being the worse, since it was "proved" sarin was used, it is inconsistent as it is odorless.
    – Suriya
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 22:17
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    How can a question asked one year ago be a duplicate of one asked a few days ago?
    – Alexei
    Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 20:24

2 Answers 2


Here are four possible reasons why the Syrian government could have used chemical weapons in this scenario. Note that we will likely never know which if any of these is the real reason.

  1. In general the reason for WMDs such as chemical weapons is to instill fear in your enemies. If you know the other guy has chemical weapons and is willing to use them, you're going to think twice about poking him.

  2. Chemical weapons are also very effective, especially if people are unprepared for them. They have very little risk to the attacking side and generally wipe out the defending side. If that particular area was being problematic then a chemical weapons attack is an effective way to take the area.

  3. This war has been rather personal for Assad. Besides being on the brink of loss, he has also lost some family members when the rebels were at the steps of Damascus. Because of this Assad may have genuine hatred for the rebels that fuels his urge to use chemical weapons against them. This however doesn't answer why he uses them now and not much in previous battles.

  4. The Syrian military is not perfect. They have been heavily affected by the years long war. It is possible that someone besides Assad ordered the chemical weapons attack without Assad's knowledge or approval. In that case there could be any number of reasons why the officer chose to give the order.

Again, remember, there is no confirmation that any of these are even partially the real reason, but they are all realisitc options.

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    This is not a military wargame exercise. Any answers are lacking depth of understanding. It is like asking a child to explain economic theory in a paragraph. The variables of how the chemical attack came to pass are almost infinite. Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 10:50
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    These are good plausible answers. I have no idea why this is downvoted in anyway.
    – user4951
    Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 18:49
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    Fully agreed on the voting based on political affiliation. I've noticed this in my short time asking and reading questions from this SE site. People seem to ask or click on questions expecting a given answer, and then are disappointed when they don't get the answer they want. It's disappointing. I joined this SE site in the presumption that I'd finally found a politics-based Q&A site actully centered around facts and critical thinking rather than the usual group-think. Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 23:31
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    I've down voted because Politics.se isn't built for theorycrafting wargames in the current events. Short a leak of exceptional quality from the intelligence community, there is nothing that laymen can contribute. This is not a practical, detailed question. Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 23:46
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    @DrunkCynic Can you point out anything factually wrong with my answer though? I think this question is fine. It is not asking for what the exact reasons are, its asking for what are advantages to his actions. That is something that can be easily analyzed. Commented Apr 8, 2017 at 23:56

I recognize that this question asks for speculation about the internal state of mind of Bashar. While there are many possible motivations, you ask for "real political" reasons that are "realistic". I don't think you care about what I think Barshar could have been thinking, so I will defer to the opinion of experts, and list some possible motivations that have been mentioned in other reliable sources.

  • It could just be a "crazy move".1
  • It could be part of a strategy of escalation against civilians.2
  • It could be that Bashar is war-weary and wants to win quickly. Their resources are depleted and their army exhausted. And, he thought that "the risk of retaliation for a major chemical weapons attack was falling".3
  • "It could be that the attack in Idlib was the work of a rogue or a madman."4
  • It is possible that Bashar didn't fear any retaliation, and the attack could have been calculated to help win the war more quickly, staying in power through the reconstruction.5
  • Bashar could simply be asserting his strength.6

1. Anne Barnard. The Grim Logic Behind Syria's Chemical Weapons. The New York Times. "One of the main defenses offered by Mr. Assad’s allies and supporters, in disputing that his forces carried out the strike on Tuesday, is that such an attack would be “a crazy move,” as one Iranian analyst, Mosib Na’imi, told the Russian state-run news site Sputnik."

2. Id. "it is part of a carefully calculated strategy of escalating attacks against civilians."

3. Emma Graham-Harrison. Syria nerve agent attack: why it made sense to Assad. The Guardian.

4. Thanassis Cambanis. What Could Possibly Motivate a Chemical-Weapons Attack? The Atlantic.

5. Id. "If he can drop chemical weapons on the same day that a conference in Brussels is discussing plans to reconstruct Syria, without any substantive response, then he’ll inch even closer to his current goal of winning a Western-funded rebuilding plan on his own terms."

6. 'Chemical attack' in Syria draws international outrage. Al Jazeera. "They [chemical weapons] are not really serving a substantial military purpose. They can certainly spread terror, and they certainly seem to have a political effect, although it's hard for me to calculate how that would be a positive thing for Bashar al-Assad right now - unless he wants to demonstrate that he's there, no matter what anyone else says or wants to do about it."


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