The New York Times broke the news earlier today that Syria's Bashar al-Assad has fired Scud missiles at rebel positions in northern parts of the country. The White House sees it as a "serious escalation," and the Washington Post explains that Scuds are an odd choice: They're big, not that accurate, and more suited to attacks on foreign countries than on enemies within the border. So what's going on? Some theories from the above sources and from the Danger Room blog at Wired:
- Chemical weapons: Scuds can be equipped with chemical warheads, and Assad might be sending a warning to rebels and to foreign nations that he's prepared to let them fly.
- Desperation: Assad is losing and he knows it. He may be holding off on chemical weapons for now, but he's" throwing everything else he has against the rebels," writes Spencer Ackerman at Wired. "He’s even chucking naval mines onto dry land to attack his foes."
- Rebels' air defenses: Assad could be worried that his planes will be shot down by shoulder-fired missiles, says University of Kentucky professor Robert Farley. Scuds are used for "surprise, or because you're concerned about enemy air defenses."