September 15, 2013

People’s Democracy

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


No. 37

September 15,



Bogey of Chemical Weapons in Syria


Prabir Purkayastha


THE world
seems to be
moving on two different tracks on the use of chemical weapons
in Syria.
the only narrative in the US
is did Assad regime use chemical weapons, but what should be
the US
The evidence of Assad government using chemical weapons needs
to be at least
plausible, for the world to accept US
military strikes.  In
the rest of the world, barring perhaps only
there is deep
scepticism about such US


The US
reflects very much the views of its government when it comes
to issues of war
and foreign policy. Just as in the case of Iraq
and its mythical WMD’s, the US
media has dutifully fallen in line with the Obama
administration, “debating”
vigorously about whether the US
has the responsibility to police the world.


The belief
that such
strikes will be limited rests entirely on Syria
not responding to such
strikes. If they do, there is every possibility of the strikes
and counter
strikes spinning into a larger regional conflagration. The
consequence for the
rest of the world including India
would be disastrous with oil prices going through the roof.  That countries such
as India,
are unwilling to take a strong position
and tell the US
stop its dicing with a regional war is a telling commentary on
the state of
global diplomacy today.




hypocrisy of western
powers on chemical weapons is also quite astounding. The US not only supplied chemical
and biological
weapons to Iraq
during the Iraq-Iran war (1980-88.) Officers from Pentagon
were planning
day-to-day strikes including chemical weapons against Iranian
positions using
satellite data for battlefield intelligence. 
So did the UK.
Robert Fisk, the well-known journalist and commentator on
Middle East, has
talked about UK
services technicians he had met in Baghdad
during the Iraq-Iran war, who had come to help Iraq
build biological weapons. 


The US
used white phosphorus in Falluja, which is illegal to use
personnel.  This
has resulted in rates of
cancer in Falluja that are higher than even in Hiroshima
after the atom bomb. The US
has used depleted uranium munitions widely in
which again is highly poisonous and carcinogenic. Its use of
Agent Orange in Vietnam is
again public knowledge. Agent Orange contained high levels of
dioxin, one of
the most poisonous chemicals known, and even today is causing
thousands of deformities
among the newborn. Israel
has also used white phosphorous in Gaza
in its 2008-2009 attack against civilian population.


The US not only covertly
supported Saddam in his war
against Iran, it also provided diplomatic cover in the UN by
not condemning
Iraq when Iran brought charges against it for use of chemical
weapons. In
Hallebja, where an estimated 5,000 Kurds died in Saddam’s   attack using
chemical weapons, CIA even
fabricated evidence “showing” that Iran
was responsible for the
attack. For the US
now to turn moralistic about international “norms” and the
need to discipline
Assad for use of chemical weapons sounds completely hollow, at
least to the
rest of the world, if not to its own citizens. 


What is the evidence
that the US,
the UK
and the French intelligence
agencies have with them? Almost all the evidence is from
classified sources, in
other words,  we
are supposed to trust
the same agencies that had cooked up the evidence for WMDs in
Even the
numbers of victims differ. Kerry has an exact figure of 1429
without offering
us any names or other details. Cameron talked about 500, the
oft quoted Syrian
Observatory of Human Rights 502, Doctors without Borders, 355.
We can
understand that figures may differ under the circumstances,
but when we hear
exact numbers such as 1429, we can be pardoned for believing
that the US
agencies are
trying a little too hard!


There is one piece of
evidence that is worth
considering further. Kerry talks about intelligence intercept
that shows that
Syrian high ranking military officials were aware of the
strike and presumably
complicit in it. Again, Powell’s presentation of Iraq
evidence in the UN comes to
mind. There also he had made similar claims, except he had
played intercepts
for the world to hear. It transpired his claims were at
variance with what the
intercept actually contained, but at least he had presented
the evidence. If
the US
has such intercepted evidence, why is it shy of presenting it
to the world? Or
has it learned from Powell’s mistake?


There are reports from
various sources which indicate
that the “original” evidence about the intercept is from Israel‘s
Intelligence Unit 822, their Signal Intelligence unit. It is
supposedly from a
Syrian officer from army headquarters enquiring from the unit
having chemical
munitions who had fired such weapons and the denial of this
officer that his
unit had fired any such weapon. It in fact substantiates the
opposite – that
the chemical attack was not launched by Assad’s forces. So two
reasons why the US
does not want to share the so-called voice
intercept – it originates from Israel
and by no means confirms the claim the US
is making.


The second reason given
is that if chemical weapons
have been used, only Assad’s forces have such capability. And
there is evidence
that chemical weapons have been used. Ergo, Assad is guilty.




Here, it is important to
make a distinction between
poisonous chemicals and chemical weapons. As we saw in Bhopal,
a number of industrial chemicals are
highly toxic, and it is not clear without detailed analysis,
presumably being
carried out by the UN investigators that it was weaponised
chemical agents that
were used. If non-weaponised chemical agents are the cause,
obviously a much
larger group of people have access to these chemicals. Even an
accident –
bombing of a chemical factory – can release poisonous


Kerry has talked of a
sarin signature in the samples
from victims. Even apart from the issue of chain of custody of
such samples –who
collected them, who transferred them and how credible is the
analysis – mere
signature of sarin is not enough to establish sarin use. A
number of other neurotoxic
chemicals share a similar signature. This is the problem with
much of the US evidence. It
continuously stretches the language to imply more than it
actually is saying.


If it is true that
weaponised sarin has been used, is
it true that only Assad’s forces have access to such chemical
weapons? Here,
the US
case is even weaker. After two years of war and rebels having
overrun a number
of Assad’s weapon depots and bases, the argument that rebels
cannot have any
chemical weapons is indeed very weak. There
have been
reports from Turkey
of Syrian rebels aligned with Jabhat Al Nusra, being found
with two kilograms of
sarin, and
also similar reports from Iraq. The US
intelligence agencies in the past have also claimed that
Al Qaeda has chemical weapons capability.


It may also be
remembered that Aum Shinrikiyo had
manufactured sarin with the help one chemist and home-made
Obviously if a crazed cult in Japan
could make sarin 20 years back, to argue only Assad has
chemical weapons in Syria needs a
high degree of naiveté.


The UN team in Syria
had earlier come to the conclusion that it is the rebels – not
Assad –that have
used chemical weapons and specifically sarin in Syria.
Carla del Ponte, one of its
inspectors had gone public with this in May this year
regarding the rebels use
of sarin.


Further, it is known and
verified by international
agencies that Libya
had chemical weapons, even though Gaddafi’s regime had agreed
to destroy all of
it after joining the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2004.  After Gaddafi was
overthrown, undisclosed
chemical munitions were discovered.  OPCW,
the official body that oversees the chemical weapon convention
has a time table
for the destruction of these weapons, which it has been unable
to fulfill.
Given that Libya
is now in the hands of groups closely allied with Al Qaeda, it
would not be surprising
if such weapons find their way to the Syrian rebels and Al
Qaeda affiliates
such as Jabhat al Nusra.


There are also credible
reports (Mint Press News) that

has supplied chemical weapons to the Syrian rebels. Dale
Gavlak and her associate,
Yahya Abbaneh, a Jordanian freelancer, have reported from
Ghouta, the scene of
the chemical incident, that Saudi Arabia
had supplied the rebels with chemical
weapons. They have spoken with the residents, the father of
one of those killed
who was handling such weapons and to other residents of the
area. The residents
talk about such weapons being stored in tunnels in Ghouta. The
picture that
emerges is not a willful strike but an accident as those who
were handling
chemical weapons did not know much about them.


The argument that Saudi Arabia
has no chemical weapons
programme cuts little ice. They can easily assemble such a
programme or buy
such arms from the black market. Or procure them from Libya,
which is
awash with weapons.


There is also
corroborative evidence from other
sources – Syrian News agency SANA
has reports including videos of tunnels containing chemical
weapons and other
materials with Saudi markings being found in Ghouta. They have
also complained
of their soldiers being affected by sarin on entering such
tunnels. There are
also reports of Hezbollah fighters of being treated for sarin
in a hospital in Lebanon after
fighting in Ghouta.


The question that could
also be asked is why does Syria have
chemical weapons when most of the world has given up its use?
The answer is a
simple one. Syria
has said
time and again that they will give up their chemical weapons
if Israel
gives up its nuclear weapons; it is their
insurance against a nuclear strike by Israel.
And just for record, though
the US
has joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, it still has a
stockpile of such
weapons. It has missed its deadline for destruction of its
stockpile that it
was obligated to do by 2012.


Ariel Sharon
had said
just before the Iraq
in 2003, “Iran,
Libya and Syria
should be stripped of weapons of mass destruction after Iraq.
These are
irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of weapons of
mass destruction”. Iraq
and Libya
have already fallen; Syria
and Iran
remain from Sharons’
list.  All this
talk of international norms is a
cynical ploy for the larger strategic objectives of the
US-Israel axis in the
region. The bombing of Syria
is the first step in the unfolding battle that finally targets
Iran.  This is the grand
strategy to establish Israel as the
only military power in the region. This is the “humanitarian”
US mission:
bomb the people of Syria and lit
the fire for a much larger war. While the rest of the world
watches the US light the