People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 39

September 29, 2013





Syria Chemical Weapons Attack: Who Benefits!


Yohannan Chemarapally


MOST Syria watchers are bemused by the timing of the alleged chemical weapons which according to the western media and rebel sources killed more than 300 civilians in a distant suburb of Damascus. The incident on August 21 happened soon after an UN investigation team to probe a chemical weapons attack that occurred in Aleppo, had landed in the Syrian capital. The Syrian government had granted permission to the UN team, confident in the belief that its investigations would conclusively prove that the rebel groups were responsible for that attack.


Already, other UN officials like Carla del Ponte, war crimes investigator and leading member of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria, had put the blame on the armed groups fighting against the government. She had said that there was “strong, concrete” evidence that sarin had been used by the western backed forces, during the poison gas attack that occurred earlier in the year. But after the horrific incident in Damascus, the UN investigators did not bother to go to Aleppo and, instead, chose to focus only on the latest atrocity.




The Syrian government was quick in giving the international arms inspectors free access to the site of the latest alleged chemical attack following talks between the Syrian foreign minister, Walid Muallem, and the head of the UN disarmament agency, Angela Kane, who had reached the country on August 24. “The foreign minister affirmed Syria’s desire to cooperate with the team of inspectors to unmask the falsehoods of the allegations by terrorist groups that Syrian forces used chemical weapons,” said a statement from the Syrian foreign ministry. The UN inspectors have already conducted their “on the ground investigations” in the affected areas. American officials were, however, quick to dismiss the Syrian government’s gesture, saying that the offer was “too late to be credible” and that Washington was all but certain that the Syrian government had gassed its own people. There were some initial fears in Damascus that the West would use the permissions granted to international enquiry commissions to set precedents like they did in the case of Iraq.   


A similar ploy was employed by the West in Iraq. The weapons inspectors working under a UN mandate helped the US to propagate the falsehood that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had huge quantities of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Syrian officials have been repeatedly emphasising that the goal of the armed opposition is to implicate the Syrian government in heinous acts of terror in order to force the West to intervene militarily. They also pointed to the fact that the armed groups responsible for the chemical attack in Aleppo in March had targeted more than 50 witnesses for assassination so that they would not be able to provide evidence to the visiting UN team. This happened after the Syrian government had agreed on August 14 to the dispatch of a UN commission to investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons in three different sites. Syrian government officials have been repeatedly stating that they “never have and never would use chemical weapons” on their own people.


The Syrian government’s vehement assertions of its innocence have not stopped the West from once again insisting that it has crossed the so called “red line.” The US, in recent history, has crossed many more serious red lines, including the indiscriminate killing of Vietnamese civilians using the chemical napalm. The survivors of those attacks have even been denied the dignity of compensation. As predicted, there were once again loud calls for foreign military intervention in Syria after the alleged chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus. The calls came at a time when the Syrian rebel forces were in retreat and in total disarray. Many of the rebel groups, which number more than a hundred, are now more interested in fighting among themselves.




“Logically, it would make very little sense for the Syrian government to employ chemical agents at such a time, particularly given the relative close proximity of the targeted towns (to the UN team),” Charles Lister, a security analysts with the Jane’s Defence Weekly observed. The Russian foreign ministry spokesman said that the missile canisters which carried the sarin gas targeting the suburb in eastern Damascus was launched by Syrian rebel forces. Syrian officials had earlier seized chemical weapon supplies in areas they had recaptured form the rebels. Syrian television showed footage of the chemical weapons they had unearthed from a secret tunnel built by the rebels in Jobar, the suburb where the alleged gas attack happened. “Moscow believes it is important to carry out an objective and professional investigation of what happened. It looks like an attempt to create a pretext for the UN Security Council to side with the opponents of Assad’s regime and undermine the Geneva 11 talks,” the foreign ministry spokesman said. The Russian foreign office spokesman added that the incident was a “provocation planned in advance.” The device which carried the poison gas canister was allegedly a home made device and did not have the markings of munitions supplied by either Russia or Iran to the Syrian army.


The Iranian foreign minister, Mohamad Javad Zarif, said soon after the incident that the Syrian government had reassured Tehran that it would allow the UN investigating team to investigate the recent incident. The Iranian president, Hassan Rowhani, while strongly condemning the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, reminded the international community that his country too was subjected to chemical weapons attack in the 1980-88 war with Iraq. At that time, the West and the Gulf monarchies were supporting Saddam Hussein. Chemical strikes on civilian areas had killed thousands of Iranians. “The provocative words of American officials or sending warships will not help solve the problem in any way, but will make the situation more dangerous in the region,” the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said.


The fear of the rebels that they would be exposed by the UN investigating team about their complicity in the use of poison gas in Aleppo could have been another motivating factor for the latest accusations against the government forces. The American president, Barack Obama, immediately convened an emergency meeting with his top aides to consider various military options against Syria. He was quick to describe the alleged chemical attack “as a big event of grave concern,” without the facts surrounding the case having been investigated. Without waiting for the UN investigators’ reports to be released, the American president declared that he was ordering “limited strikes” on Syria and sent in more warships into the region. The American president has been under pressure from professional hawks in the political establishment to move militarily against Syria, for more than a year.


Till recently, Obama seemed to be veering to the advice given by a former US ambassador, Robert Hunter, “to keep his nerve and continue resisting attempts to drag the US even more deeply into Syria.” Hunter suggested that it would be better for the president to be “heartless” rather than “mindless” on Syria. More than a 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the US instigated war on Syria and more than five million Syrians made homeless. A recent opinion poll showed that 62 percent of the Americans are opposed to a war against Syria.




But President Obama’s laying down of the so called “red line” in Syria, drove him into a self-imposed military dilemma, especially after he hastily concluded that Damascus had crossed the “red line” by allegedly using chemical weapons. France, the former colonial power in Syria, was not even looking for excuses. Paris always wanted the Libyan scenario of regime change to be replicated in Syria. The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, was quick in calling for “a reaction of military force” by the international community in the wake of the latest incident. The Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutogulu, not to be outdone, said that Syria has crossed “all red lines.” Turkey has provided logistical and military support to the Al Qaeda affiliated gangs operating inside Syria. The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has been one of the earliest votaries for the imposition of a “no fly zone” over Syria. It has been reported that 400 tonnes of sophisticated weaponry, including shoulder fired missiles, were supplied to the rebels fighting the government through the Turkish province of Hatay in the last week of August. The arms, according to spokesmen for the rebels, were paid for by their supporters in the Gulf countries


The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu was more to the point, saying that attacking Syria would be a blow against Iran. “Syria has become Iran’s testing ground, and Iran is closely watching whether and how the world would respond,” he said. The Israeli prime minister boasted that “our fingers are on the trigger,” and demanded that “chemical weapons be taken out of Syria.” British tabloid papers predicted that the western bombing campaign on Syria would begin soon.


The US and its regional proxies in the region, Jordan and Israel, are meanwhile busy training handpicked fighters from the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) along the Syrian border with Jordan, according to reports in the western media. Analysts say that this is part of the western strategy to carve out a buffer zone where rebel Syrian forces favoured by Washington could be based. Jordan has announced in the last week of August that it hosting a meeting of top military commanders from NATO countries and the western regional proxies in the region. The Obama administration sent Gen Martin E Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


The vote against war on Syria in the British House of Commons, coupled with the worldwide anger at America’s attempts to wage yet another war, finally stymied the Obama administration’s attempts to intervene militarily on behalf of the Islamist and jihadi forces waging war against Syria. The role of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in particular and of Russian diplomacy in general, in defusing the tense situation in August, was also crucial.


The events in Syria also helped remove the focus from the dubious role of the West in Egypt and shift international attention once again to Syria. The continued western support to the Syrian opposition, according to US officials themselves, have converted Syria “into the biggest haven” for jihadist fighters. The Jabhat al Nusra, openly affiliated to the Al Qaeda, is the biggest and best organised fighting group. They have also been in the forefront of suicide bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. Western media personnel have also been among their victims. Yet there are growing calls by many western leaders for military intervention.


The Syrian information minister, Omran al-Zoubi, has warned the US against any open military intervention. “The basic repercussion would be a ball of fire that would burn not only Syria but the Middle East,” he said. Iran and Hezbollah will definitely not be idle bystanders if the US launches a military attack on Syria. Russian foreign ministry officials warned that any military action by the West would be a “tragic mistake.”