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Ear to the Ground

Chemical Weapons: ‘A Retold Drama Riddled With Plot Holes’

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Posted on May 1, 2013
geyergus (CC BY-ND 2.0)

“In any normal society,” writes a skeptical Robert Fisk of the media and government blowup over the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, “the red lights would now be flashing.”

Fisk, who covers the Middle East for The Independent, points out that the allegation comes from Israeli “military intelligence.” U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the White House have responded by hedging, saying they have “varying degrees of confidence” in the assessment.

But then, “Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee,” who Fisk reminds us “managed to defend Israel’s actions in 1996 after it massacred 105 civilians, mostly children, at Qana in Lebanon … announces of Syria that ‘it is clear that red lines have been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger-scale use.’ ” The White House follows up by matching Feinstein’s committed tone, announcing that “All options are on the table.”

But there are gaps in this story. Why isn’t anyone asking the obvious? Namely, that “if Syria can cause infinitely worse damage with its MiG bombers (which it does) why would it want to use chemicals? And since both the regime and its enemies have accused each other of using such weapons, why isn’t Chuck as fearful of the rebels as he is of the Assad dictatorship?”

“It all comes back to that most infantile cliché of all: that the US and Israel fear Assad’s chemical weapons ‘falling into the wrong hands,’ ” he answers. “They are frightened, in other words, that these chemicals might end up in the armoury of the very same rebels, especially the Islamists, that Washington, London, Paris, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting. And if these are the ‘wrong hands,’ then presumably the weapons in Assad’s armoury are in the ‘right hands.’ That was the case with Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons—until he used them against the Kurds.”

So far, there have been three incidents in which sarin gas has supposedly been used in Syria. The first was in Aleppo, where rebels and the government threw accusations at each other. The hospital videos that claim to depict this instance came from Syrian state TV. The second was in Homs, supposedly on a very small scale. And the third was in the outskirts of Damascus. Finally, three Syrian child refugees were brought to a hospital in the city of Tripoli in northern Lebanon with bad burns on their bodies, but the White House appears to have missed this, Fisk says.

“[N]ow for a few problems,” Fisk writes. “Phosphorus shells can inflict deep burns, and perhaps cause birth defects. But the Americans do not suggest that the Syrian military might have used phosphorus (which is indeed a chemical); after all, American troops used the very same weapon in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where there is indeed now an explosion of birth defects.” Fisk supposes that the West’s “hatred of the Assad regime might better be reflected by horror at reports of the torture by Syrian secret policemen of the regime’s detainees. But there’s a problem here, too: only 10 years ago, the US was ‘renditioning’ innocent men, including a Canadian citizen, to Damascus to be interrogated and tortured by the very same secret policemen. And if we mention Saddam’s chemical weapons, there’s another glitch: because the components of these vile weapons were manufactured by a factory in New Jersey and sent to Baghdad by the US.”

Are you confused? Good. That means you’re paying attention. The point is that the chemical weapons saga between the American government and Middle Eastern Government X is “a retold drama riddled with plot-holes,” evidenced by selective reporting, finger pointing by dubious sources and allegiances that shift as quickly as sarin molecules are allegedly exchanged. Until more facts shake loose, skepticism is advised.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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