Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Chemical Attacks in Syria and US Strikes: Examining what May Lie Behind the Curtain

While Donald Trump is currently facing brickbats over his personal, very controversial ties with Vladimir Putin, perhaps the most significant move by Trump to demonstrate his not being a Russian stooge was his ordering a strike in Syria against Assad’s men.

However, subsequently, Trump’s outreach to Putin on 2nd May 2017 by way of a telephonic conversation in which the two apparently agreed to set up “safe” or “de-escalation zones” in the country coulds relieve the embattled civilian population. The White House also announced it would send a representative to the next round of Syrian peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, the week, with not only NATO member Turkey but even Russia and Iran sponsoring the talks, and this is an interesting development. Especially so, after Trump, having been accused of being Putin’s stooge, had proved otherwise by launching  missiles against the Assad regime, Russia’s ally, in the wake of chemical attacks on Syrian civilians attributed to the Assad regime by Trump. But Trump’s strikes could have been motivated by reasons other than only proving himself to not be a puppet of Moscow, which could include his regime’s pandering to Israel and Saudi Arabia, like preceding American regimes.

The chemical attacks in Syria in April 2017, followed by American strikes on Syrian troops under the Trump administration, when Trump had earlier explicitly called for standing by Assad not interfering in the Syrian regime’s fight against the ISIS, marking a major U-turn, have attracted much attention. Trump had explicitly stated that he would back Assad and that under him, the United States would not engage itself militarily in the task of changing regimes in the Middle East, something he clearly backtracked on, and  Democrats (with some exceptions like female US military veteran Tulsi Gabbard) supported this move for it was in continuation with Obama’s policy, giving it the touch of bipartisan support, but several fellow Republicans like Patrick Buchanan who had supported Trump have been critical of the move, as have been independent commentators like Tarek Fatah who had, though expressing some reservations, very vocally backed Trump as a better contender than Hillary for the fight against Islamism (a political ideology aimed at imposing a totalitarian brand of Islam at variance with modern human rights values). Another fairly detailed article has also been critical of the strikes. On the international front, the strikes met with disapproval not only from Russia (that has been backing Assad) but even other rising powers like India and China.

Given that both Israel and Saudi Arabia, America’s two allies in the Middle East, seem to be more at loggerheads with Iran and the Iran-backed Assad regime than the ISIS (the Israeli defence minister has explicitly said so) till the ISIS as a force actually comes to effectively threaten them (the Saudi government has been strict with individuals seeking to join the ISIS), in the absence of any evidence, suspicions do point at them for being behind the chemical attacks. Indeed, the Trump administration seems to be going soft on both these countries, supporting the regime of Saudi Arabia in its bombardment of Yemen and not taking a firm stand against the much criticized Israeli policy of introducing more Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Interestingly, Israel, despite its liberal social character and doing a fairly decent job of accommodating Muslim and Christian minorities within its borders (with notable exceptions in the form of Jewish fanatics seeking a hard-line theocratic Jewish regime in Israel), indeed has followed hard-line Zionist policies when it comes to issues like settlements (criticized even by many liberal Israeli Jewish people). And of course, Saudi Arabia’s stringent Islamist laws are indeed very well-known (with secular dissenters like Raif Badawi facing brutal treatment), which are not to be seen in as much measure even in other Wahabi Arab countries like Qatar and the UAE, and despite the contempt that hardliners among both Jews and Muslims have for the other community, interestingly, Zionism had helped create the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Trump’s inclusion of Shia-majority Iran, which has been fighting the ISIS and has no significant history of producing terrorists from among its population, in the list of countries for his immigration ban (stalled by the judiciary) and not Saudi Arabia also seemed to many to be a part of his attempt to appease Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Indeed, I am not in any way even for a moment endorsing those conspiracy theories that suggest the non-existence of jihadist terrorism altogether (for those who give even an iota of plausibility to conspiracy theories about jihadist terrorism, see this article, this one, this one and this one), nor is it my intention to suggest that jihadist terrorists are all mercenaries of powers like Israel, nor am I denying that jihadist terrorism, in which even educated, employed people partake with a genuine lure of martyrdom and paradise, indeed has to do with certain extremist and controversial interpretations of Islamic theology with a very regressive, sexist and religious-intolerant worldview (and not necessarily only out of some possibly genuine resentment against Western powers for their foreign policy approaches), and certainly, the menace of the ISIS needs to be eliminated, but it is irksome to see that those who should be uniting against the ISIS (including Assad’s autocratic but secular government, a lesser evil than the ISIS by all means) are fighting with each other.

The chemical warfare in Syria along with the politics of blame attached with it had begun much earlier in December 2012 and August 2013 under Obama when a very similar course of action involving missile strikes was undertaken by the US administration, and given that controversy, it is even more unlikely that the Assad regime would resort to chemical attacks now.

Even back in 2012, the US explanation behind the incidents in Syria, or the lack of it, projected more of a poorly knit tale, failing parameters of logic. Subsequently, it seemed all the more true that both Israel and Saudi Arabia had a major role in enabling the Obama administration to wage a war against Syria.

The four-page intelligence report for the August 2013 attacks, submitted by the Obama administration, according to Richard Guthrie (former project head of the Chemical and Biological Warfare Project, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute), was full of loopholes. One such example is the claim of the alleged interception of communications made by the Syrian government, to which no transcripts were made available. The lack of substantiation was even evident in the speeches made by the Obama administration, adding to the lack of a definite confirmation in the intelligence report.

Losing further credibility, the report stated unnamed social media accounts as a part of data or evidence, claiming that there are proofs of ‘videos, witness accounts and social media reports’ allegedly from various locations in the Damascus region. Upon closer introspection, there was more likelihood that these unnamed sources of information may well have been from ‘foreign funded insurgents, Israeli and Saudi media, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights or the NGO doctors’. Coincidently, these very sources were also responsible for the support of insurgency and military intervention in Syria. 

Furthermore, among the sources of intelligence and communication interceptions included Israel, which is particularly dishonorable when it comes to tampering with evidence. The intelligence report also claimed to have known of the attack well in advance, to which, former senior research fellow at the European Union’s institute of Security Studies, questioned the integrity of US in not having warned the world of such a heinous and deadly attack. 

History is evidence that the anti government forces operating in Syria are supported by the US government, who have an ill track record of using chemical weapons, to which the Obama administration have kept tight-lipped. Despite the claims of the anti government forces alleging the Syrian military to have carried out the attack on Homs in December, 2012, CNN reports have confirmed that it was indeed the US military that trained the rebel forces in both securing and handling chemical weapons. The insurgents in the name of Destructive Wind Chemical Battalion, not just threatened with the use of nerve gas, but in fact released a video of its use and implication on rabbits, clearly alluding to their motive of destruction.

Le Figaro, a French newspaper, further reported that the 2 brigades of rebel fighter, duly trained by the CIA, Jordanians, Saudis and Israelis crossed into Syria from the Hashemite kingdom in Jordon, on the 17th and 19th of August, 2013. The US investment in training and the loss thereafter, must have a prompted the US to use chemical weapons in Damascus as a ploy to recuperate.

However, the procurement of these weapons is a pertinent question in itself and according to the Independent, a leading British newspaper, it was indeed the Saudi prince Bandar bin Sultan, who alerted in February 2013, the use of Sarin gas by the Syrian regime.

To support this claim, a report by Yahya Ababneh, which recorded the testimonies of witnesses, indicated that the rebels had procured the chemical weapons from Prince Bandar, the Saudi Intelligence chief.Further testimonies which include that of a female rebel fighter, claim to have not been provided with any information regarding the use or nature of these weapons. Additionally, the description of the weapons as indicated by Abdel Moneim clearly indicated to the procurement and distribution of chemical weapons by Saudi Arabia to the rebel forces on the one hand, while on the other to the role of Israel in providing a cover in order to wage a chemical war against Damascus.

The Syrian government had given due notice to the UN inspectors, warning them of a possible chemical attack and in addition, took important steps in ensuring that the anti-government militia would be kept away from their reach, in a closely guarded compound. Yet, on March 19, 2013, the rebel forces launched a chemical attack on the Syrian government forces. The blame, however, was put on the Syrian government itself for carrying out the attack, by the insurgents and their foreign allies including the US government. On the contrary, Carla Del Ponte, a UN investigator, after thorough investigation, debunked the same.

The hypocrisy that the US endorses was then quite evident in the moralistic tone while condemning the attacks on the one hand, while on the other by selling cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia. This was further highlighted during the aftermath of the August attack, when they requested for an investigation, while on the contrary found to have all the answers and proofs to hold the Syrian government guilty.

However, upon closer introspection, the claim made by the Obama administration defied all logic. The argument claimed that the Syrian government used chemical weapons on their own turf in order to put the blame on US and its allies. Furthermore, they chose to do the same on the very day when UN inspectors were arriving in Damascus seems more like a hollow argument without any substance. Even BBC, which is state sponsored and clearly biased, admitted to the strangeness in the facts as presented by the Obama administration.

The US government’s claim against the Syrian government, further adds to their foul record of waging war against countries in order to claim power before the dawn of further negotiations, in which it has had an upper hand over the Syrian government.

The chemical strike on Syria on the 7th of April, 2017, further adds to the allegations made against US and its allies. Robert Parry, an Iran Contra Journalist, claims that the attack in Syria was initiated from an operation base in Jordan run by the Saudi-Israeli coalition. Parry asserts that the logic behind the attack was to send the reversal of Trump administration’s announcement through, which was earlier done in March. 

The chemical weapons attack in 2013, was a revelation in the continuing blame game spurred by the US, which rendered the responsibility over Saudi Arabia- the suppliers of the chemical weapons, when the rebels admitted to Dave Gavlack, a correspondent of the Associated Press over Saudi Arabia’s involvement in the event.  For a fact, Saudi Arabia, already has a track record of indulging in chemical warfare which can be further substantiated with its assault on Yemen in August 2016, where it had attacked the civilian population, killing and injuring several in Sana’s’ ninth district.

The ground on which Parry dismisses the four page report from the NSC is that it only makes assertions rather than providing any actual evidence. The report clearly states the inability to release the necessary details under the pretext of security, to which, Parry elucidates on examples of former Presidents who have taken a different course, including the likes of John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Prior to providing any substantial evidence to their claims the Trump administration went on to make grave charges against Russia in covering up Syria’s responsibility in the use of chemical weapons. The report which claims to have “signals intelligence and geospatial intelligence” of a plane carrying chemical weapons leaving from the Syrian military airfield was never released in order to safeguard their methods and sources. The report itself, fails to clarify and elucidate on the reasons to withhold this information, especially, regarding US’ history of releasing such details under John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.  

Additionally, Theodore Postol, a professor at the MIT, further builds on the claims against the dossier, alleging a serious lack of ‘concrete’ evidence. He further adds that the main evidence submitted in dossier is a photograph which just alludes to the attacks being made from ground rather that air. However, Postol argues that the photograph has been tampered with and the entire incident seems staged thereby raising serious issues regarding the politicization of intelligence.

On the 4th April incident, US officials had informed Parry of a drone presence in the area which may have been suspected to carry the bomb. Initially, the analysts struggled to locate the path of the drone. However, later it was declared that the drone was launched from a Saudi-Israeli joint base in order to support the Syrian rebels. This indeed sent out a clear and strong message of Trump’s reversal, which formerly promised against the removal of Bashar al-Assad.

The dossier released by the Trump Administration clearly backs the intelligence analysts’ claims to have traced the delivery of poison gas, which led to the attack on April 6. However, the lack of clarity in the dossier and the lack of explanation later, both indicate to a malicious act within. On the same lines of argument, even the photograph released from the White House on 6th April, shows no sign of CIA Director Mike Pompeo or Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, thereby questioning the integrity of the dossier later released.

The dossier on the same also renders Russia and others culpable of covering up for the chemical weapons attack. However, before the 6th April 2017 attack, even the US military intelligence acknowledged the former poison gas incident may have occurred due a rupture in a container from a conventional bombing episode. This further elucidates on the ambiguity in concluding to a definite statement, especially under the circumstances of war. However, this dossier claims the contrary, blaming Damascus into launching an attack.

It is indeed rather unfortunate that petty geopolitical games are coming in the way of uniting against the ISIS, though we need a united front against the ISIS the way we had against the Axis Powers, with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, Mao and Chang kai Shek – all united.


Karmanye Thadani
Knowledge Council

The author would like to thank his friend Girish Nair for his inputs.

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