Syria's Assad is sitting comfortably, but it doesn't mean we should

(2013) U.N. chemical weapons experts check a site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Abdullah

Syria's President Assad is sitting more comfortably now than any time in the past three years of bitter and bloody civil war.

News that his regime has missed the deadline to surrender stockpile of chemical weapons has caused little more than a ripple of international indignation.

In fact the situation is worse than advertised. Western intelligence believes he has retained secret stockpiles, probably of the nerve agent, sarin.

Supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Credit: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

Some experts have told me that a portion might have fallen into the hands of Al-Qaeda linked militants.

Meantime, there is growing evidence that the Syria military is deploying chlorine as a choking and terrifying weapon of war.

Damaged buildings are pictured in the al-Amriyeh neighbourhood of Syria. Credit: REUTERS/George Ourfalian

Britain is urging the UN to launch a formal investigation. We shall see how far that gets.

The point is the West seems to have settled for a policy of containment. Batten down the hatches, the conflict will last for years, policy makers caution.

And that, according to one influential voice in Syria's moderate opposition, condemns the country to a "slow motion genocide.''

The Syrian writer, Rime Allaf, once of the London-based think-tank Chatham House, and now a senior advisor to the Syrian National Coalition, tells me that Assad will act with impunity as long as he believes the world's words of condemnation are simply that; words.

"We are urging Britain, the US, the UN and NATO to move beyond words, and ensure there is a credible threat to the Assad regime,'' she says.

It is, she says, about forcing Assad to re-calibrate his calculations.

And that begins on the battle-field and in practical terms translates to supplying better weapons to the Free Syrian Army, either directly or through the West's Arab allies.

Some effective anti-armor and anti-aircraft weaponry to stop the chlorine loaded barrel bombs would be a start, she says.

A fighter from the Free Syrian Army prepares homemade rocket near Aleppo. Credit: REUTERS/Molhem Barakat

A policy of containment is all well and good. Until the pressure cooker explodes, dragging in Lebanon and Jordan, and if the Home Office is to be believed, sending jihadi fighters back into Europe.

Just because President Assad is sitting comfortably doesn't mean we should.