Category Archives: Syria

UN Report on Ghouta Gas Incident Points to Evidence Tampering, not Syrian Culpability

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The following article below was originally published by foreign policy analyst Stephen Gowans on his blog what’s left.

By Stephen Gowans
September 17, 2013

The United Nations report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta area of Damascus on August 21 does not, as newspaper headlines have indicated, “point to Assad’s use of gas” [1]; confirm that rockets were loaded with sarin [2]; or “come closer to linking Assad to sarin attack” [3]. Nor, as US officials and some journalists have declared, does it “reinforce the case that Mr. Assad’s forces were responsible” [4]; “confirm Damascus’s responsibility” [5]; or “undercut arguments by President Bashar al-Assad of Syria that rebel forces … had been responsible.” [6]

This isn’t to say that Syrian forces didn’t use chemical weapons, only that the evidence adduced in the UN report doesn’t show, or even suggest, that they did. On the contrary, the report offers stronger evidence that attempts were made to manipulate evidence to attribute blame to the Syrian government.

The report concludes that “chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.” [7]

The UN inspectors adduced five findings in support of their conclusion.

• “Impacted and exploded surface-to-surface rockets, capable to carry a chemical payload, were found to contain sarin.
• “Close to the rocket impact sites, in the area where patients were affected, the environment was found to be contaminated by sarin.
• “Over fifty interviews given by survivors and health care workers provided ample corroboration of the medical and scientific results.
• “A number of patients/survivors were clearly diagnosed as intoxicated by an organophosophorous compound.
• “Blood and urine samples from the same patients were found positive for sarin and sarin signatures.” [8]

The findings, then:

• Present evidence that the symptoms experienced by people in Ghouta on August 21 were due to sarin exposure.
• Suggest—but do not confirm—a possible route through which the contamination occurred (delivery of the agent by surface-to-surface rockets.)
• Says nothing about who was responsible.

US officials and their allies have cited the discovery by the UN inspectors of rocket fragments containing sarin to attribute blame to Syrian forces. But to make the leap from ‘sarin-contaminated rocket fragments were found’ to ‘Syrian forces carried out a sarin attack’ requires evidence to support two intermediary conclusions:

• The contaminated rocket fragments weren’t planted or manipulated.
• Only Syrian forces could have carried out a chemical weapons attack using rockets.

The report can’t confirm the first conclusion, and indeed, challenges it.

Pages 18 and 22 of the report contain key paragraphs headed by the title “Limitations”.

On page 18:

The time necessary to conduct a detailed survey … as well as take samples was very limited. The sites [had] been well travelled by other individuals both before and during the investigation. Fragments and other possible evidence [had] clearly been handled/moved prior to the arrival of the investigation team. [9]

On page 22:

As with other sites, the locations [had] been well travelled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the Mission. Time spent on the site was … limited. During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence [was] moved and possibly manipulated. [10]

In other words, the inspectors had little time to carefully gather evidence and inspect it in situ; there was plenty of opportunity for the evidence to be manipulated; and the evidence had clearly been handled and moved.

Far from indicting Syrian forces as the culprits, these findings point more strongly to evidence being manipulated, possibly to falsely implicate the Syrian government.

As to the argument that only Syrian forces could have launched a rocket attack, it’s plain that rebel forces could have used rockets supplied by their foreign backers or captured from Syrian forces.

Indeed, as the Associated Press’s Kimberly Dozier and Matt Apuzzo reported on August 29,

U.S. intelligence officials are not so certain that the suspected chemical attack was carried out on Assad’s orders. Some have even talked about the possibility that rebels could have carried out the attack in a callous and calculated attempt to draw the West into the war. [11, 12]

In summary, here’s what the UN report says: On August 21, people in Ghouta were exposed to sarin. We don’t know how they were exposed and who was responsible. But we do know that evidence in connection with rocket fragments was possibly manipulated.

Concluding that the UN report adds to the evidence linking Syrian forces to the August 21 incident, as US officials and some US mass media have indicated, is misleading. First, there was no hard evidence of Syrian culpability to which the UN report could be added. An earlier assessment by the US intelligence community was “thick with caveats.” [13] Second, the UN report, like the US intelligence community assessment, offers no evidence linking the Ghouta incident to Syrian forces.

US officials are reading far more into the evidence than the evidence allows, and US mass media are docilely following the officials’ lead. Anti-Syrian forces have adopted a ridiculously lax evidentiary standard to allow themselves to find the target of their hostility guilty of gassing non-combatants on, at best, flimsy evidence. One can only conclude that they’re motivated to discredit the Syrian government to facilitate the project of bringing about regime change in Damascus—a project these parties are overtly committed to.

Consider motives.

• The United States and its allies have a motive to blame the Syrian government for using chemical weapons in order to establish a pretext to step up their intervention in Syria’s internal war. In light of this, it would be expected that they would be inclined to favor very liberal, over-reaching, interpretations of evidence to create a casus belli.

• Once Washington declared that the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would trigger an overt intervention by US forces, the rebels had a motive to stage a chemical attack in order to blame it on Syrian forces.

• Syrian forces had a motive to refrain from using chemical weapons to avoid crossing the United States’ red line.

In light of these motives, the most probable scenario is that a sarin attack was carried out by rebel forces to draw the United States more fully into the war and that Washington and its allies have set their evidentiary bar deliberately low to read Syrian culpability into the flimsiest of evidence. The objective is to achieve what US foreign policy has long set as its principal goal: to topple governments that stand in the way of the expansion of economic space for private ownership, market regulation and profit accumulation.

What makes Syria’s government an object of hostility for the big business-dominated US state is its denial of complete freedom for foreign capital to exploit Syrian markets, land, resources and labour. [14] Added to this is Damascus’s refusal to fully cooperate in supporting US geopolitical goals (which are themselves linked ultimately to US profit-making interests.) “Syria,” says the country’s president “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” [15]

Syria’s insistence on maintaining its independence, the US government’s long-standing hostility to foreign governments that demand to be allowed to chart their own course, the rebels’ interest in staging a gas attack to blame on Damascus, Washington’s reading far more into the evidence than the evidence allows, and the absence of any hard evidence linking Syrian forces to the Ghouta incident, suggest that the Syrian government is being set up.

The UN report does nothing to challenge this view. If anything, its noting that evidence was moved and possibly manipulated, supports it.

1. Rick Gladstone and C.J. Chivers, “Forensic Details in UN Report Point to Assad’s Use of Gas”, The New York Times, September 16, 2013.
2. Rick Gladstone and Nick Cumming-Bruce, “U.N. Report Confirms Rockets Loaded with Sarin in Aug. 21 Attack,” The New York Times, September 16, 2013.
3. Joby Warrick, “U.N. inspectors’ findings come closer to linking Assad to sarin attack”, The Washington Post”, September 16, 2013.
4. Siobhan Gorman, Joe Lauria and Jay Solomon, “Report on Gas Attack Emboldens U.S.”, The Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2013.
5. Gorman, Lauria and Solomon.
6. Gladstone and Chivers.
7. UN Report on the Alleged Use of Chemical Weapons in the Ghouta Area of Damascus on 21 August 2013,http://www.un.org/disarmament/content/slideshow/Secretary_General_Report_of_CW_Investigation.pdf
8. UN Report.
9. UN Report.
10. UN Report.
11.Kimberly Dozier and Matt Apuzzo, “Intelligence on weapons no ‘slam dunk’”, The Associated Press, August 29, 2013.
12. Significantly, that “suspicion was not included in the official intelligence report.”
13. Dozier and Apuzzo.
14. Stephen Gowans, “Syria’s Uprising in Context”, what’s left, February 10, 2012,http://gowans.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/syrias-uprising-in-context/
15. Bashar al-Assad May 19, 2013 interview with Clarin newspaper and Telam news agency

Counter-Questions on Syria

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By Stephen Gowans
September 1, 2013

The US state is above international law, according to US president Barack Obama. In an address announcing that he was referring to the US Congress the decision to take military action against Syria, Obama declared that the United States needs to violate international law in order to enforce “the international system” and “international rules.” The international “system” and “rules” Obama referred to, which he apparently intended his audience to construe as “international law,” is not, in fact, international law, but rules Obama himself has unilaterally drawn up, and through rhetorical sleight of hand, attempted to pass off as international law. Yet, the very act Obama proposes—waging war on Syria without UN Security Council authorization, and to punish an act that, if there were hard evidence that it actually happened, would not be unlawful—is a flagrant violation of the authentic international system Obama deceptively claims he wishes to uphold. Obama has arrogated onto himself the powers and responsibilities of world ruler. He sets the rules, decides when they’re broken, and metes out the punishment.

The US president justified his self-elevation to the post of world emperor on moral grounds, arguing that the United States must punish heinous acts (though only those, real or imagined, of countries that are not US satellites; the heinous acts of satellite countries are allowed to continue with impunity, and often, US assistance.) In his statement, he asked:

• What message will we send if a dictator can gas hundreds of children to death in plain sight and pay no price?
• What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on the use of chemical weapons that has been agreed to by the governments of 98 percent of the world’s people…is not enforced?
• If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorists who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?

Laying aside the realities that: there is no hard evidence that the Syrian president was behind the heinous act and that it seems more likely that the opposition, Washington’s ally, was; that appointing to himself the moral duty to punish the perpetrator is rather rich coming from the leader of a country that has authored multiple heinous acts around the globe—and on an infinitely grander scale; that the agreement of other governments not to use chemical weapons has no relevance to what goes on within Syria, which has not signed onto international conventions against the weapons’ use (and neither have US allies Egypt and Israel); we might put these counter-questions to ourselves:

• What message will we, the world’s 99 percent, send if a president can autocratically appoint to himself the right bomb other countries without justification and without legitimate authority, and pay no price?
• What’s the purpose of the international system if a prohibition on the unlawful use of force that has been agreed to by the governments of 100 percent of the world’s people (the UN Charter) is ignored with impunity?
• If we, the 99 percent, won’t enforce accountability in the face of this act of aggression against Syria, which is to be carried out in brazen defiance of the international system, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To a country that threatens non-nuclear countries with nuclear arms (as the United States does, reserving the right of first-strike against any country)? To a government which terrorizes civilians through bombing raids, “shock and awe” and drone attacks? To states that carry out genocide through sanctions of mass destruction (as the United States did in Iraq)?

Not only is Washington willing to brush aside international law when the UN Charter gets in the way of its foreign policy interests, it is also willing to toss evidence, reason and logic aside when they threaten its pretexts for war. Apropos of this, see counter-hegemonist Amal Saad-Ghorayeb’s 10 simple guidelines for ensuring methodological rigor, as inspired by US officials, here.

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Hezbollah Is Launching An Offensive That Will Profoundly Change The Syrian War

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The following article below was originally published by Business Insider:

By Michael Kelley
June 3, 2013

Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants hold flags as they walk towards the cemetery where their fellow fighters were buried during a ceremony conducted one day after Hezbollah’s Martyr’s Day, in the Beirut’s suburbs, November 12, 2010. (REUTERS/Jamal Saidi)

Thousands of Lebanese Hezbollah militants are amassing around the northern Syrian city of Aleppo in preparation for an assault on the city, Loveday Morris of The Washington Post reports.

The deployment demonstrates the group’s complete commitment to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and may profoundly affect the 26-month conflict.

“The Aleppo battle has started on a very small scale; we’ve only just entered the game,” a senior Hezbollah commander told The Post. “We are going to go after strongholds where they think they are safe. They are going to fall like dominoes.”

The commander had been overseeing five units in Qusair, a town near the Syria-Lebanon on border where Hezbollah has been spearheading a regime offensive to retake the town for the last three weeks.

The increased presence of the militant group, in addition to the arrival of sophisticated military technology such as Iranian surveillance drones and Russian anti-mortar systems, has helped solidify recent gains made by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Hezbollah’s preparations to attack Aleppo, which is nowhere near the Lebanon-Syria border, significantly raises the stakes in the war.

“A deployment so deep into Syria and in such a crucial place would be a clear indication that Hezbollah’s role in Syria was never limited to defensive aims but is geared toward helping Assad score major victories,” Emile Hokayem, a Middle East-based analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told the Post.

Aleppo is Syria’s largest city and served as the country’s commercial hub before the war.

David Barrett of The Telegraph reports that the metropolitan population, about three million before the war, has grown to about 3.5 million since the opposition seized half the city last July.

Rebels, primarily al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, have been administering city services in areas under their control while a stalemate persists.

Syrian rebels walk through rubble and damaged buildings near the Aleppo’s Umayyad Mosque on February 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Aref Heretani)

The guerrilla fighters of Hezbollah are training and advising the growing irregular militias being deployed by Assad.

At least 50,000 militiamen — known as Jaysh al-Sha‘bia i.e. “People’s Army” — are now fighting for Assad, and Iran aims to increase the force to 100,000 by sending fighters to a secret base in Iran for guerrilla combat training.

Last week Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, wrote that “Hezbollah’s all-in commitment is perhaps the single most important development of the war thus far and will profoundly affect its course.”

Israel, which has bombed Syria three times this year amid suspicions of weapons transfers to Hezbollah, is surely watching the developments closely.

One unintended consequence of the Shia group’s assertiveness inside Syria is an unprecedented galvanization of the fractured opposition.


Another immediate implication is increased sectarian tensions in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is one of two major political parties.

“The presence of Hezbollah units around Aleppo will only deepen the divide in Lebanon and confirm, in the eyes of its rivals, Hezbollah’s complete alignment with Assad,” Hokayem told the Post, adding that it’s now plausible that Hezbollah is and will be utilized anywhere in the country.

Right on cue, on Sunday night a security source told al-Arabiya that one person was killed and 21 wounded in Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli when pro- and anti-Assad Alawite and Sunni residents clashed.

Syria calls on Turkish PM to resign over crackdown

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June 1, 2013

A bleeding protester is assisted after being attacked by riot police on 1 June 2013, during an anti-government protest in Taksim Square in Istanbul. (Photo: AFP – Bulent Kilic)

Syria gleefully turned the tables on Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday over his response to anti-government demonstrations, calling on him to halt the violent repression of peaceful protests or resign.

Erdogan, a former ally of Bashar al-Assad, turned against him after the Syrian uprising erupted in March 2011, which has since descended into a brutal civil war.

Syrian state television broadcast hours of live footage from Istanbul, where thousands of protesters clashed for a second day with riot police who fired teargas and water cannons.

The unrest was triggered by government plans for a building complex in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, long a venue for political protest, but widened into a show of defiance against Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP).

“The demands of the Turkish people don’t deserve all this violence,” Syrian television quoted Information Minister Omran Zoabi as saying. “If Erdogan is unable to pursue non-violent means, he should resign.”

“Erdogan’s repression of peaceful protest … shows how detached he is from reality.”

The Turkish prime minister turned against Assad after he said the Syrian leader had rejected Ankara’s advice for political reform in response to protests which erupted in Syria two years ago, inspired by uprisings across the Arab world.

It now hosts Assad’s political and military opponents, infuriating Damascus which accuses Erdogan of fueling the bloodshed in Syria.

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Turkey finds sarin gas in homes of suspected Syrian Islamists – reports

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May 30, 2013

Turkish security forces found a 2kg cylinder with sarin gas after searching the homes of Syrian militants from the Al-Qaeda linked Al-Nusra Front who were previously detained, Turkish media reports. The gas was reportedly going to be used in a bomb.

The sarin gas was found in the homes of suspected Syrian Islamists detained in the southern provinces of Adana and Mersia following a search by Turkish police on Wednesday, reports say. The gas was allegedly going to be used to carry out an attack in the southern Turkish city of Adana.

On Monday, Turkish special anti-terror forces arrested 12 suspected members of the Al-Nusra Front, the Al-Qaeda affiliated group which has been dubbed “the most aggressive and successful arm” of the Syrian rebels. The group was designated a terrorist organization by the United States in December.

Police also reportedly found a cache of weapons, documents and digital data which will be reviewed by police.

Following the searches, five of those detained were released following medical examinations at the Forensic Medicine Institution Adana. Seven suspects remain in custody. Turkish authorities are yet to comment on the arrests.

Russia reacted strongly to the incident, calling for a thorough investigation into the detention of Syrian militants in possession of sarin gas.

“We are extremely concerned with media reports. Russia believes that the use of any chemical weapons is absolutely inadmissible,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on Thursday.

In a separate incident in Adana, police reportedly received intelligence that an explosive-laden vehicle had entered the town of Adana on Thursday, the Taraf daily reports.

Ankara has attempted to bolster the Syrian opposition without becoming embroiled in the Syrian civil war, a policy which Damascus claims lead to the deadliest act of terrorism on Turkish soil.

On May 11, 51 people were killed and 140 injured after two car bombs exploded in the Turkish town of Reyhanlı, located near the country’s border with Syria.A dozen Turkish nationals have been charged in the twin bombings, and Ankara has accused Damascus of helping the suspects carry out the attack.

“This incident was carried out by an organization which is in close contact to pro-regime groups in Syria and I say this very clearly, with the Syrian Mukhabarat [intelligence agency],” Interior Minister Muammer Guler said.

Syria’s Information Minister Omran Zoubi denied any link the attack, saying his country “did not commit and would never commit such an act because our values would not allow that”.Zoubi further charged the Turkish government had facilitated the flow of arms, explosives, funds and fighters across the country’s border into Syria, claiming that that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party bear direct responsibility [for the attack].”

Reports of chemical weapons use by both Damascus and the Syrian opposition have surrounded the conflict in Syria for months.

In this image made available by the Syrian News Agency (SANA) on March 19, 2013, a man is brought to a hospital in the Khan al-Assal region in the northern Aleppo province, as Syria’s government accused rebel forces of using chemical weapons for the first time (AFP Photo)

In March, the Syrian government invited the United Nations to investigate possible chemical weapons use in the Khan al-Assal area of rural Aleppo. Military experts and officials said a chemical agent, most likely sarin, was used in the attack which killed 26 people, including government forces.

Damascus claimed Al-Qaeda linked fighters were behind the attack, further alleging Turkey had a hand in the incident.

“The rocket came from a placed controlled by the terrorist and which is located close to the Turkish territory. One can assume that the weapon came from Turkey,” Zoabi said in an interview with Interfax news agency.

US President Barack Obama has warned any confirmed use of chemical weapons by Damascus would cross a “red line” which would prompt further action. Both Washington and London claimed there was growing evidence that such chemical agents had been used.

Less clear perhaps is whether a similar red line would apply to Syrian opposition groups such as Al-Nusra by the US and NATO allies. Author and historian Gerald Horne, for one, told RT that there are greater political dynamics at work.

“Well, one would think so, but of course we know that the United States along with its NATO partners Britain and France are quite close to the main backers of the rebels — I’m speaking of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. We know, for example, according to the Financial Times that Mr Sarkozy, the former president of France, is in very close financial relationship with the Qataris,” says Horne.

That would be under the existing paragraph in the story: US President Barack Obama has warned any confirmed use of chemical weapons by Damascus would cross a “red line” which would prompt further action. Both Washington and London claimed there was growing evidence that such chemical agents had been used.

This case being similar to an earlier one, with the findings of UN chemical weapons expert Carla Del Ponte  – who had found evidence of their use by the rebels – some think the fallout will be what it was then as well.

Journalist and RT contributor, Afshin Rattansi believes that the same fate will befall this story, as far as media coverage goes. All possible doubts will either be hushed or directed elsewhere, as they were toward Del Ponte’s findings.

“Carla Del Ponte – one of the greatest experts on this from the United Nations – did do an in-depth investigation only a few weeks ago, and of course, the mainstream media tried their best to ignore it and to character-assassinate Del Ponte… she did masses of work on this, and [found] It was the rebels and not the government.”

Rattansi goes on to say that “the news management of the Syria story has been incredibly sophisticated, and I don’t think it will be on the front pages of any newspapers in Britain or the United States – it will quietly disappear like Del Ponte’s case. The big story, of course, will be Russia and the delivery of the S-300.”

A day before the Reyhanlı bombing, Erdogan released a statement claiming he had evidence the Syrian government had had used chemical weapons, crossing the red line set by President Obama.The accusation contradicted a statement made at the time by a leading UN investigator. Carla Del Ponte, who heads the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said there were “concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas” in Syria.

“This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” Del Ponte continued.

Exposure to large quantities of sarin gas, whose production and stockpiling was outlawed by the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993, causes convulsions, paralysis, loss of respiratory functions and potentially death.

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Should the US bomb Syria?

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By Stephen Gowans

There is no compelling evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against the rebel forces which seek its overthrow. But even if chemical weapons have been used, a military intervention by the United States, its NATO allies, or its regional proxies, would fail the test of humanitarian intervention. First, it would exacerbate, not reduce, the suffering of Syrians. Second, it would be undertaken for concealed reasons of economic and geostrategic gain, not to protect Syrians from chemical weapons, not for the promotion of multi-party representative democracy, and not to encourage tolerance of dissent, as the promoters of intervention would have us believe.

Moreover, a successful US-led intervention would eliminate a pro-Palestinian, anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist state committed to secularism, non-sectarianism, and public ownership of the commanding heights of its economy, and would, install, in its place, a US-client regime that would adopt a pro-US foreign policy, abandon the Palestinians, capitulate to Israel, and cater to Western investors and corporations. “Syria,” remarked president Bashar al-Assad, not without substance, “is an independent state working for the interests of its people, rather than making the Syrian people work for the interests of the West.” [1] This orientation would be completely reversed if a US intervention succeeded.

Three reasons the chemical weapons case against the Syrian government is weak at best

1. Britain and Israel claim to have evidence that the Syrian army used chemical agents against armed rebels. The British evidence is based on tissue samples taken from armed rebels who claim to have been gassed by loyalist forces. To concretely make the case that the Syrian army used chemical weapons:

• The tissue samples would have to test positive for chemical agents.
• There could be no possibility the samples were tampered with.
• A direct link between the contaminated tissue and an attack by Syrian forces would need to be established.

Concerning the first point, we have nothing to rely on but the word of British authorities. Should we believe them? Britain has been implicated in attempts to concoct pretexts for military intervention with phony evidence before (see the bogus WMD claims used to justify the war on Iraq and the genocide fear-mongering pressed into service to justify NATO’s 1999 air war on Yugoslavia.)

What’s more, Britain is hardly a neutral party to the conflict in Syria, and therefore has an interest in manufacturing justifications for more open and direct meddling. That’s not to say that the tissue sample didn’t test positive, only that it would be foolhardy to suppose that a country that “sexed up” evidence to justify a war on Iraq can be trusted.

Secondly, “the samples collected by Britain may have been tainted by rebels who want to draw the West into the conflict on their side” [2], a point made by US officials.

Third, “the detection of chemical agents doesn’t necessarily mean they were used in an attack by the Syrian” army. [3] Rebels, for example, may have been accidentally exposed to chemical agents they, themselves, had in their possession.

The key point is that evidence of tissue contamination (if indeed such evidence exists) is not evidence that the Syrian army used chemical agents, since there are multiple possible ways in which the tissue could have become contaminated.

2. Once US president Barack Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government was a red line that would trigger a more muscular US intervention, the Syrian calculus turned decidedly against their use. Using chemical agents against rebels would play directly into Washington’s hands, giving the bellicose superpower a pretext to intervene militarily in an open and direct fashion. This would be a disadvantage that would grossly outweigh any advantage that accrued from the weapons’ use. On the other hand, once Obama announced his red line, it made a ton of sense for the rebels to falsely claim they were gassed.

3. While an investigation by the United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has found evidence that the rebels used sarin gas, no evidence has been found that the Syrian government has done the same. Commission member Carla Del Ponte reported that, “We collected some witness testimony that made it appear that some chemical weapons were used, in particular, nerve gas. What appeared to our investigation was that was used by the opponents, by the rebels. We have no, no indication at all that the government, the authorities of the Syrian government, had used chemical weapons.” (Emphasis added.) [4]

An intervention would create harm

To reduce suffering, a military intervention would need to reduce harm to a greater degree than the military intervention itself would produce. Judging by previous US-led interventions undertaken for professedly humanitarian reasons, a military intervention in Syria would likely involve air strikes on Syrian military, government and even civilian facilities, with attendant civilian casualties, disruption of essential services, and massive displacement of non-combatants. According to The New York Times’ Elisabeth Bummiler, senior Pentagon officials have warned that “military intervention would be a daunting and protracted operation, requiring at least weeks of exclusively American airstrikes, with the potential for killing vast numbers of civilians.” (Emphasis added.) [5]

To be sure, an open and direct military intervention would be ardently welcomed by Syrian rebels, and their co-sectarian arms suppliers, the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. But it would kill many and make life even more miserable and uncertain for Syrians, especially those living in areas under loyalist control.

Far better to reach a political solution. But one of the reasons the Syrian civil war carries on is because the United States refuses to back a political resolution that would fall short of achieving its chief Syria foreign policy goal, namely, the ouster of Assad and his replacement by a pliant, pro-US government. A genuinely humanitarian intervention would set as its goal an end to hostilities, not the absorption of Syria into the US-Israeli camp.

Intervention would not be based on humanitarian concern

There is no reason to believe that the United States has any genuine interest in protecting Syrians from chemical weapons attacks. Washington dismissed out of hand evidence presented by the United Nations that the rebels used sarin gas, which is hardly what a government would do were it genuinely keen on protecting all Syrians from chemical attack, no matter which side of the conflict they’re on.

Significantly, US regime change policy in Syria antedates Syria’s civil war. The outbreak of the “Arab Spring” in Syria, and Damascus’s response to it, didn’t start the ball rolling on US efforts to force Assad from power. US regime change policy, linked to Damascus’s refusal to become a “peace-partner” with Israel, its alliance with Iran and Hezbollah, and its refusal to fully open its economy to US capital, existed long before the Syrian government cracked down on opposition forces. In fact, one element of US foreign policy was to encourage opposition to the Assad government, [6] that is, to foment the kind of civil unrest that eventually morphed into a full blown civil war.

Multi-party representative democracy, a tolerant attitude to dissent, and eschewal of chemical weapons, have not been relevant components of US foreign policy decision making. Indeed, Washington has shown itself willing to overlook the absence of multi-party representative democracy, to ignore an intolerant attitude to dissent, and to turn a blind eye to the deployment of chemical weapons, where US corporate interests are promoted, either directly, or indirectly through the strengthening of United States’ geostrategic position. For example, Washington and its NATO allies have adopted a tolerant attitude to the violent suppression (aided by Saudi tanks) of a Shiite rebellion in Bahrain against an absolutist Sunni monarchy, while at the same time casually dismissing the UN’s concrete suspicions that the Syrian rebels used sarin gas. Significantly, Bahrain, a paragon of free-markets and free-enterprise, is home to the US Fifth Fleet; Saudi Arabia is a source of generous profits for US oil majors and New York investment banks; and the Syrian rebels are instruments through which US foreign policy goals of regime change in Damascus are to be achieved. If US foreign policy was indeed driven by democracy-promotion, human rights objectives, and non-proliferation goals, its attitude toward Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Jordan and the possibility of sarin gas use by Syrian rebels, would be very different.

Conclusion

There are sound strategic reasons for the Syrian army to leave chemical weapons in storage. Deploying them would play into Washington’s hands by providing the United States with a pretext to escalate its intervention in the Syrian civil war. On the other hand, any force that would benefit from a more muscular US intervention on the rebels’ behalf has an interest in manufacturing evidence of the use of chemical agents by Syrian forces. This would include the rebels themselves and those of the United States’ allies that would like Washington to refashion Syria in their political or sectarian interests.

Much as intervention by the United States is sold as a humanitarian exercise, it fails the humanitarian test on two levels. First, it would create substantial harm. US military officials have warned that direct military intervention—which would take the form of US air strikes—would create massive civilian casualties. Second, US foreign policy is based on commercial, financial, and geostrategic goals, not the promotion of multi-party representative democracy, tolerance of dissent, and anti-proliferation. This is clear from a simple examination of the countries Washington supports: those with a congenial attitude to US free enterprise and a willingness to submit to US domination, regardless of their practices in connection with multiparty representative democracy, civil liberties and weapons of mass destruction.

For all these reasons the United States should not bomb Syria, and nor should it provide military, diplomatic, or any other kind of assistance to the Syrian rebels. Of course, what it should do and what it will do are very different matters, but all the same we should be clear that the chemical weapons case against Syria is a fraud, as is the idea that direct US military intervention in the Syrian conflict would have either a humanitarian basis or humanitarian outcome.

1. Bashar al-Assad May 19, 2013 interview with Clarin newspaper and Telam news agency.

2. Adam Entous, Joshua Mitnick and Stephen Fidler, “Syria used chemical arms, Israel says”, The Wall Street Journal, April 23, 2013.

3. Ibid.

4. Alex Lantier, “UN says US-backed opposition, not Syrian regime, used poison gas”, World Socialist Web Site, May 7, 2013

5. Elisabeth Bummiler, “Military points to risks of Syrian intervention”, The New York Times, March 11, 2012.

6. Craig Whitlock, “U.S. secretly backed Syrian opposition groups, cables released by Wikileaks show”, The Washington Post, April 17, 2011.

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UN investigators say Syrian rebels used chemical weapons, not Syrian govt.

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The following article below was originally published by Reuters

Syrian doctors and nurses treating victims of sarin gas nerve agent.

U.N. has testimony that Syrian rebels used sarin gas: investigator

By Stephanie Nebehay
May 5, 2013

U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday.

The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.

“Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated,” Del Ponte said in an interview with Swiss-Italian television.

“This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she added, speaking in Italian.

Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general who also served as prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, gave no details as to when or where sarin may have been used.

The Geneva-based inquiry into war crimes and other human rights violations is separate from an investigation of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria instigated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which has since stalled.

President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the rebels accuse each another of carrying out three chemical weapon attacks, one near Aleppo and another near Damascus, both in March, and another in Homs in December.

The civil war began with anti-government protests in March 2011. The conflict has now claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and forced 1.2 million Syrian refugees to flee.

The United States has said it has “varying degrees of confidence” that sarin has been used by Syria’s government on its people.

President Barack Obama last year declared that the use or deployment of chemical weapons by Assad would cross a “red line”.

Commander says Iran is ready to train Syrian army in light of Israeli attacks

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May 5, 2013

Iran has denounced a reported Israeli attack on Syria and offered to assist ‘train’ the Syrian army if Damascus asks for help, commander of country’s ground forces stated. Iran has been urging for neighboring nations to stand against the assault.

“As a Muslim nation, we back Syria, and if there is need for training we will provide them with the training, but won’t have any active involvement in the operations,” IRNA news agency quoted the commander of the Islamic republic’s army ground forces, General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan as saying.

“The Syrian army has accumulated experience during years of conflict [with Israel], is able to defend itself and doesn’t need foreign assistance,” he added.

Israel reportedly carried out its second airstrike in three days on Syria early on Sunday, a Western intelligence source confirmed to Reuters, targeting Iranian-supplied missiles to Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah. The attack hit the Jamraya military research center, Syria’s state TV reported; while a senior Israeli official told AFP that the Israeli airstrike was carried out near Damascus Airport.

Iran has spoken out against the alleged airstrike, arguing that it was meant to create instability and insecurity in the region and urging the countries in the region to remain united against Israel, the Fars news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.

Events in Syria show the intent to weaken the existing government and give more room to the terrorists, RT Arabic quoted the opening statement of the Iranian parliament’s session. According to the statement, the reasons behind the Israeli attack are the success of Syrian national army is battling against the armed groups.

Iran also urged other countries in the region to stand united against Israel’s’ actions and demand a stop to unwarranted attacks, RT Arabic reports.

So far Israel has remained silent on the issue. Earlier Israel stated that they would not tolerate Hezbollah being supplied with arms, as Tel Aviv considers Lebanon’s Hezbollah a terror organization.

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