Syria: new chemical revelations; aid cut to rebels
Now here's a counterintuitive juxtaposition of news stories. The UN mission investigating the use of chemical weapons in Syria stated that chemical agents may have been unleashed in five of seven cases investigated, occurring between March and August—not just the Aug. 21 attack at Ghouta. The other four cases that remain under investigation are named as Khan Assal, Jobar, Saraqeb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya. The mission unequivocally concluded that "chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic." (NPR, LAT, Dec. 12) Simultaneously, the US and UK suspended all "non-lethal aid" to the Syrian rebels. The cut-off came days after a newly formed "Islamic Front" seized a base and arms cache from the Free Syrian Army at the Bab al-Hawa crossing on Syria's northwestern border with Turkey. The Islamic Front recently brought together six rebel factions, and seems loosely allied with ISIS, heretofore the major jihadist army.
The FSA, allied with the Western-backed National Coalition, of course protested the cut-off, with spokesman Louay Meqdad urging "our friends" to reconsider. Reports did not mention "lethal" (or non-non-lethal?) aid from the US and Britain, but we are skeptical that any of this has ever reached the rebels anyway. The report did say that Turkey has sealed the border. (Al Jazeera, Dec. 12; The Guardian, Dec. 11; Long War Journal, Nov. 23)
Norman Solomon will be pleased by this. After the threat of US air-strikes passed back in September, he launched a campaign on RootsAction, "Next Step for Peace in Syria—Stop the 'Lethal Aid'," stating: "Top officials in Washington are happy that American 'lethal aid' has begun to flow into Syria, and they act as though such arms shipments are unstoppable. In a similar way, just a few short weeks ago, they—and the conventional wisdom—insisted that U.S. missile strikes on Syria were imminent and inevitable." Actually, some in Congress were so un-happy about the "lethal aid" that they put the proverbial kibosh on it for months. And we are far from certain that Obama's bombing plans were ever more than empty bluster.
Solomon urges his readers to urge their congress critters: "The last thing Syria needs is more weapons, ammunition and other military supplies. The US government and allies should stop sending lethal aid to rebels in Syria, while working for a reciprocal cutoff of all military assistance to the Syrian government by Russia and Iran." Of course there is no concern that until this hypothetical "reciprocal cutoff" happens, the Assad regime will have a blank check from Moscow and Tehran to crush the revolution by any means available (possibly excluding chemical weapons, lest more empty bluster be prompted from the White House).
We have noted the continued denialism about the now clearly evident reality that the rockets in the Ghouta attack were fired from a central Damascus base of Assad's Republican Guards, Mount Qasioun. Richard Spencer on Dec. 11 has a most welcome piece in The Telegraph, "Ignore the conspiracy theories: Assad was behind the Syrian chemical weapons attack." He especially calls out Seymour Hersh for continuing to spread transparently baseless speculation that anyone other than the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack. It is sad and frustrating that denouncing this shameful dictator-shilling falls to a conservative organ like The Telegraph, while the "left" is mostly promoting said ugly propaganda.
It's funny how the growing role of jihadists in the Syrian revolution is invoked as an argument against supporting the rebels, when failure to arm the rebels is exactly what allowed the jihadists to fill the vacuum. This dilemma was doubtless on the mind of US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel when he arrived in Qatar this week to sign a 10-year Defense Cooperation Agreement that allows US troops to remain stationed at the Combined Air Operations Center at al-Udeid Air Base. Hagel met with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad and Defense Minister Hamad bin Ali al-Attiyah to discuss Syria on the last day of his visit. Publicly he said only the obvious: "The opposition in Syria...is very fractured and it includes terrorist organizations. There's a sectarian war dynamic of this. There's a civil war dynamic of this. Iran is supporting various groups in there." (Reuters, Dec. 10) What he didn't say is that his Qatari hosts have been (whether for ideological or tactical reasons) backing the Syrian jihadists—as we have pointed out again and again and again and again.
Say what you want about arming the rebels, hopefully we can all embrace Amnesty International's urgent call for the US, European Union and Gulf Cooperation Council states to agree to take in more Syrian refugees and assure that aid goals are met for those now languishing in camps in neighboring countries. There are currently over 2.3 million registered refugees from Syria—52% of whom are children. An additional 4.25 million are displaced inside Syria. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees calls it the world's worst refugee crisis "since the Rwandan genocide almost 20 years ago."
Meanwhile, in a development that may see further Israeli embroilment in the Syrian war, an Israeli military vehicle was damaged by a bomb set off along the Syrian frontier in the occupied Golan Heights Dec. 7. (Reuters, Dec. 8) It was unclear if it was government or rebel forces, or which faction, that placed the bomb. Where-ever the blame falls, be sure that the partisans of that side will immediately issue the requisite useless speculation about a "false flag" attack.
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