High Noon, High Stakes and Syrian Chemical Weapons Allegations
by Max Musson
BEFORE WE HERE in the West climb right up onto our high horse and fueled by hubris and misplaced self-righteousness participate in what could potentially be a catastrophic military intervention in the Syrian civil war, escalating that conflict into World War III, let us pause for a moment of reflection and consider where our own national interests lie. And let us consider also the possibility that there are two sides to any conflict.
Western governments emboldened by the US President Donald Trump are presently poised to launch a missile attack against the Syrian government in retaliation for the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Army in the town of Duma in the northern part of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus last Saturday.
Western intelligence sources claim that chemical weapons were used by the Syrian Army based upon reports reaching them from rebel held areas of Syria together with video footage showing both adults and children being doused with water, allegedly to wash away the chemicals to which they had been exposed. As a consequence Donald Trump has lashed out at Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies Russia and Iran, saying there will be a “big price to pay”.
On Monday at a session of the UN Security Council, Russia used their veto to prevent moves by the US and her allies including Britain and France from passing a resolution condemning the Syrian government and authorising military retaliation against Bashar al-Assad.
Both Syria and Russia deny that a chemical attack took place and the Syrians have pointed out that the current accusation follows a pattern that has evolved in recent times, in which accusations of the use of chemical weapons are made every time the Syrian Army are poised to clinch a significant military victory against rebel forces. The inference here being that such allegations are false and cynically timed to provoke outside intervention in the desperate hope that such intervention will avert defeat.
So, what do we know about the alleged attack?
One video, recorded by rescue workers shows a number of men, women and children lying lifeless inside a house, many with foam at their mouths. Other unverified footage shows young children crying as they are treated in a makeshift medical unit. It has not been possible however to verify independently what actually happened, or the actual number of dead.
Relief organisations such as the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations and the US-based Syrian American Medical Society, which run medical facilities in the Eastern Ghouta, told BBC News that up to 500 people had been brought to medical centres showing symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic substances and that as many as 70 people had died.
The Syrian government have denied the use of chemical weapons and we have to question why they would resort to the use of such weapons each time they are poised for victory in rebel held areas? When victory is almost assured, the last thing the Syrian government would want is to inflame international opinion and invite foreign intervention. Logically therefore, President Assad is the least likely suspect to have authorised the use of chemical weapons at such times.
Since the weekend the Syrian Army has agreed with rebel forces an end to the siege of Duma, and the rebel forces have been able to leave the area in return for the release of dozens of pro-government detainees they were holding hostage.
Having retaken Duma, the Russians and the Syrian government have invited a team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to send a fact-finding mission to Duma in order to investigate and establish whether chemical weapons were used, and if so by whom.
At the UN the Russian permanent representative, Vasily Nebenzya, stated that Russian experts entering Duma after its fall to Syrian government forces could find no evidence of the use of chemical weapons, although they claim to have uncovered a factory near Duma which they claim has been used by the Jaish al-Islam rebel group to manufacture military-grade chemical agents. The implication here is that rebel terrorist groups may have used home-made chemical agents with which to fabricate evidence of the use of chemical weapons by government forces, and the rebels will obviously have had a vested interest in fabricating such allegations.
Clearly there are two sides to this story and as yet no clear evidence exists to establish the truth of the matter. It would therefore appear to be grossly provocative and premature for the Americans, the French and the British government to make unconditional accusations, to issue public insults calling President Assad an “animal” and threatening imminent military strikes against the Syrian government.
This situation is reminiscent of the recent incident in which Soviet double-agent Sergie Skripal and his daughter Yulia are alleged to have been poisoned with Novichok by Russian agents in Salisbury.
In the immediate aftermath of that incident British Prime Minister Theresa May accused the Russians of culpability despite there being no evidence to support such an accusation and Britain’s allies among Western governments immediately began expelling Russian diplomats in retribution.
In response to these accusations by the British government, Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out that if military grade nerve agent had been used against the Skripals, they would already be dead, however both Skripal and his daughter have made a surprising recovery in less than six weeks, suggesting that the cause of their illness may not have been Novichok at all and certainly not military grade Novichok.
Novichok is alleged to be up to eight times more toxic than the VX nerve agent developed by the Americans, which means that just 80 micrograms would be a lethal dose, equivalent in liquid form to just 1/50th of a drop of water, or in solid form, much smaller than a single grain of table salt.
In May 1987 Andrei Zheleznyakov, one of the scientists involved in the development of Novichok was apparently accidentally exposed to merely some of the residue of the Novichok he had been working with. At the time he would presumably have been wearing protective clothing and medical treatment would have been administered immediately. Never-the-less he became critically ill and took ten days to recover consciousness after the incident. He lost the ability to walk and was treated at a secret clinic in Leningrad for three months afterwards. The agent caused permanent harm, with effects that included chronic weakness in his arms, a toxic hepatitis that gave rise to cirrhosis of the liver, epilepsy, spells of severe depression, and an inability to read or concentrate that left him totally disabled and unable to work. He never recovered and died in July 1992 after five years of deteriorating health.
Evidently, if the Skripals have been exposed to Novichok it would not appear to have been military grade Novichok and there is speculation that the alleged poisoning of the Skripals was a propaganda charade intended to discredit Vladimir Putin in preparation for this subsequent accusation that the Russians have colluded with the Syrian government in the use of chemical weapons against Syrian rebel forces.
In both these instances, allegations have been made of the use of chemical weapons in situations in which the accused would have nothing to gain and much to lose by such action.
In both these instances Western governments have jumped to conclusions, have made insulting denunciations and in the case of the alleged Skripal poisoning, taken punitive action without waiting for proof of guilt, and we in the West must question why our governments are so impatient to act, especially as Porton Down have since stated that there is no proof of Russian involvement in the poisoning of the Skripals, and especially in view of the catastrophic consequences should these wild accusations result in war with Russia.
We have reports today of President Trump telling the Russians they should expect an imminent missile attack upon Syria, and of Russian diplomats warning that Russian forces will shoot down any incoming American missiles and will retaliate by firing at the source of those missiles. We stand on the brink of World War III and for what?
Where is the British interest here?
Why should we react in knee jerk response to claims made by Syrian rebels, most of whom were recently in cahoots with ISIL and Al Qaida?
After the basket cases that have resulted from Western military intervention in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, haven’t we learned that such countries are better left in the hands of pro-Western Ba’athist dictators, despite all of their faults?
Are the peoples of Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq brimming over with gratitude for the chaotic political and economic state we have left them in? I don’t think so!
Are Western nations richer and healthier having accepted millions of disgruntled Libyan, Afghan and Iraqi refugees in recent years? No, not one bit!
The best that can happen in Syria is that the Syrian Army and President Assad regain control of that country and begin the task of rebuilding it as soon as possible. It was a prosperous, pro-Western country before Al Qaida and ISIL began their insurgency and it could become such a country again, if we and the Americans would only stop meddling in matters that have nothing to do with us.
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Source: Western Spring