Chemical Warfare In Syria, and Its Corrosiveness Beyond

Syria is at the center of a geo-political vortex of conflict that has suctioned the petroleum-fueled ambitions of the three international powers of our day — the United States, Russia and China — into an interlaced complex of bitter regional wars within the oil-rich highly fragmented and excessively inequitable Islamic and Israeli Middle East.

The Syrian Civil War broke out on 15 March 2011 as one of the numerous Arab Spring revolts and revolutions of that year. The initially peaceful and nonviolent demonstrations by the Syrian people against oppression by the state and in favor of democracy were brutally suppressed by the Al-Assad regime and thus engendered a violent defensive reaction. The ensuing Syrian Civil War quickly devolved into a power vacuum within which swirled a chaotic and inhuman multi-party scramble for political control through armed conflict.

The Shia-based affinity between the Alawite-centered Al-Assad family dictatorship in Syria with the Hezbollah Political Party in Lebanon and with the Iranian theocracy bonded these last two into arrangements and intrigues of military assistance to the Al-Assad regime.

The Sunni-based oil-rich Gulf States, which are aligned with the Washington Consensus, pursued their ideological and regional ambitions by supplying military aid to sub-state factions and terrorist groups combatting the Shia-allied forces in Syria. Israel and Turkey each also continued to pursue their own regional ambitions with a similar perspective relative to Syria.

In September 2015 the Russian government, under the direction of Vladimir Putin, intervened massively in the Syrian Civil War, conducting airstrikes and other military operations for the defense of its long time client, the Al-Assad regime, thus boosting it to a military victory in its civil war, which has been and continues to be a humanitarian catastrophe for the Syrian people. Syria hosts one of the three Russian foreign military bases outside the confines of the former Soviet Union and the former East Bloc (out of a total of 21 military bases outside of Russia proper).

That Syrian-hosted Russian military presence is actually sited at two bases: a naval facility in Tartus, and the Khmeimim Air Base. From its Syrian military base complex, Russia can project military power westward from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, northward to Turkey and beyond that to the Black Sea and Crimea, eastward into the Levant, and southward into Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.

Russia’s purpose in maintaining such wide-ranging possibilities of power projection from its Syrian bases are diplomatic, they are not preparations for invasive war. They are what in the animal world is known as a threat display, a broadcast signal — mainly directed at the Washington Consensus — saying: do not think to attack our nation because we can reach far out to claw your eyes out, and rip open your petrol-carrying veins. Russian history easily justifies such a defensive posture.

What all three world powers understand is that their degree of control of world affairs rests on the extent of their control over the world’s fossil fuel commerce. The national ambitions of lesser states are easily throttled by the squeezing of the control hands wrapped around the petroleum arteries of world economics. Japan launched its Pacific War of 1941-1945 because of just this fear, sparked by the U.S. embargo of petroleum to Japan on 26 July 1941 in response to Japan’s 1937 invasion of China and its ensuing Sino-Japanese War, which then merged into World War II as one of its theaters of conflict.

Radiating out of this collective understanding of world power are: Washington’s lavish patronage and protection of the Gulf States in its orbit, Russia’s zeal at piping its abundant geological hydrocarbon bounty to Europe, and China’s unquenchable thirst for Iranian, Central Asian, and any other petroleum to help fuel the continuing expansion of the world’s largest national-regional economy.

And Syria is the stinging nettle at the center of this turbulent geo-political swirl.

With malicious desperation during its multi-faceted war against the aspirations of the Syrian people, and against the infiltrating sub-state and ideologically fanatical militias seeking control of the Syrian state, as well as against militias acting as proxy forces of foreign intervention (sometimes the same for these last two), the Al-Assad regime deployed chemical weapons on many occasions: chlorine and sarin gas aerial bombs and artillery shells. “The deadliest attacks were the August 2013 sarin attack in Ghouta (killing between 281 and 1,729 people) and the April 2017 sarin attack in Khan Shaykhun (killing at least 89 people)… The most common agent used was chlorine, with sarin and sulphur mustard also reported.” [1]

In prior decades from the 1970s, Syria had built up an arsenal of chemical weapons, with the technological help of Russia and Egypt, as its weapons-of-mass-destruction shield against external threats to the continuation of the Al-Assad regime as the Syrian state. This Syrian chemical “doomsday machine” was intended as its ultimate defense against Israeli aggression, in the same way that the nuclear powers present their arsenals of nuclear-tipped rockets as shields against existential threats to their national sovereignty. [2]

The worldwide abhorrence against the use of chemical weapons acted as a diplomatic pressure against this tactic by the Al-Assad regime domestically, and was also used as an excuse by the Washington Consensus to justify its various forms of demi-covert intervention in the Syrian Civil War. There has been much propaganda, anti-propaganda, dissimulation, lying and cover-up associated with the reality of chemical warfare in Syria, the slants and biases in the reporting and commentary of which depend on the ideological allegiances of their sources, every faction trying to muddy the waters of public perception in its favor.

In 2013, under intense international pressure against its chemical warfare and fearing a Libya-style NATO intervention, the Al-Assad regime with Russian encouragement acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention. It agreed to eliminate its arsenal of chemical weapons under the supervision (and protection) of Russia. But the complete elimination of that arsenal did not occur, as witnessed by subsequent chemical attacks by the forces of the Syrian regime.

In 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Fact Finding Mission in Syria concluded that the use of chlorine was systematic and widespread. The following year, the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (OPCW-UN JIM) was established to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria. The OPCW-UN JIM blamed the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad for the sarin attack in Khan Shaykhun, as well as three chlorine attacks. They also concluded ISIL militants used sulphur mustard. According to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the Syrian government carried out 33 chemical attacks between 2013 and September 2018. A further six attacks were documented by the Commission, but the perpetrators were not sufficiently identified. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 85 confirmed chemical attacks occurred between 21 August 2013 and 25 February 2018, and the Syrian government was responsible for the majority of the attacks. HRW said the actual number of attacks was likely higher than 85. According to a Global Public Policy Institute study, at least 336 attacks have occurred. The report said 98% of these attacks were carried out by Assad’s forces and 2% by ISIL. [3]

In October 2019, former OPCW employee Brendan Whelan acted as a whistleblower codenamed ‘Alex’, teaming “up with Wikileaks, to expose what appeared to be a major scandal with global implications – the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), had ‘doctored’ a report in order to fabricate a chlorine attack in Syria when no such event had actually occurred… [Brendan Whelan] had been part of the team that investigated the chemical attack in the Syrian town of Douma on April 7, 2018 in which at least 41 civilians were killed. This was done, insinuated ‘Alex’, in order to frame the Syrian government and justify the missile strikes launched by the US, UK and France against forces loyal to the government of Bashar al-Assad in the days following the attack on the town of Douma in April 2018.” [4]

Russian state media and the Assad regime seized upon these leaks to claim that the chemical attack was staged and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been hijacked by Western nations and was no longer fit for its intended purpose.

“A draft version of a letter seen by Bellingcat and not publicly released by either ‘Alex’, Wikileaks or any of the journalists who have covered the so-called scandal, proves that a chemical attack did occur. It shows that any notion of a cover-up at the OPCW is false and confirms that the organisation acted exactly as it was mandated to. Further, it also reveals that at a diplomatic level behind closed doors, the Russian and Syrian governments have both agreed with the conclusions of the OPCW report. Yet in public – and with the help of a number of Western journalists and academics – Russia has launched a widespread and concerted effort to undermine both the OPCW and the conclusions of its report on Douma.” [5]

The unreleased letter referred to above (the relevant portions of which can be seen in [5]) was drafted by several members of the OPCW in June 2019 and then sent by the director general of the organisation, Fernando Arias, in reply to a letter from Whelan where he claimed there was no evidence of chlorine being used as a weapon in Douma, and traces of chlorine that were found were not consistent with the release of chlorine gas. In his reply Arias explains why Whelan’s assumptions are wrong – he simply wasn’t aware of the latest scientific techniques used by the OPCW because they were developed after Whelan had left the organisation. It was these techniques that allowed the OPCW to conclude chlorine gas had been released in the building in which the Syrian civilians died.

Arias wrote: “Your letter further refers to 2,4,6-trichlorophenol as being used erroneously as an indicator of chlorine exposure, and you rightly point out that this chemical can be present for a variety of reasons that do not require chlorine gas exposure. However, there were additional chlorine-containing chemicals found in samples taken from Douma, and in particular, chlorinated pinene compounds that have been shown to form in certain types of wood that have been exposed to chlorine gas. One of the Designated Laboratories that analysed samples after you completed your tenure has developed methods of analysing wood exposed to chlorine gas that can distinguish between different types of wood in the signatures of chlorinated compounds produced. This laboratory’s analysis of wood samples taken from Douma indicated that the wood indeed had been exposed to chlorine gas.” [6]

In short, the OPCW did exactly as mandated and established that a chemical weapon had been used at Douma; the OPCW had not falsified evidence nor fabricated a fictitious (false flag) chemical attack.

Arias also wrote that: “I would further like to point out that the conclusion of the final Douma report is not in question. No State Party has questioned the conclusion that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a toxic chemical was used as a weapon in Douma. This includes the Syrian Arab Republic and the Russian Federation, which in recent weeks have each sent us comments and questions on the final Douma report in notes verbale in which they themselves have indicated their agreement with the conclusion of the final report. These notes verbale, as well as our replies to them, have been made available to State Parties.” [7]

A July/August 2021 news brief by the Arms Control Association states:

“An investigation into 77 allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria has concluded that chemical weapons were likely or definitely used in 17 cases, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported to the UN Security Council on June 3 [2021]…

“OPCW Director-General Fernando Arias announced that the world’s chemical weapons watchdog will be addressing new issues during future consultations with Syria, including ‘the presence of a new chemical weapons agent found in samples collected in large storage containers in September 2020.’ He said that the organization had notified Syria of its intention to conduct on-site inspections and requested visas for its expert team, but never received a response…

“That is not the first time that Syria has declined to cooperate. In April 2020, the OPCW Executive Council demanded further information regarding three alleged chemical weapons attacks that took place in 2017. Syria declined, and in response, the organization in April suspended Syria’s ‘rights and privileges,’ marking the first time that the OPCW had taken such action since its formation in 1997…

“Russia has consistently defended Syria and criticized the OPCW and its investigators. In response to Arias’ report, Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, accused the OPCW of exclusively using information ‘from biased sources opposed to the Syrian government’ and of relying on ‘pseudo witnesses,’ according to media reports. He also claimed the OPCW ‘was established illegitimately’ and that therefore it is unfair to expect Syria to comply with its regulations. Russia joined 14 other states, including China, in voting against the measure to restrict Syria’s rights within the multilateral organization…

“Despite Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 under heavy international pressure, questions remain about the validity of the country’s chemical weapons declarations. Arias reported that one of the deadliest attacks took place in 2017, three years after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad declared that the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons program was complete.” [8]

So as of mid 2021: the Al-Assad regime remains in control of the Syrian state; there is no convincing evidence that its entire stockpile of chemical weapons has been destroyed and that it no longer has a chemical weapons production capability; there is no guarantee that Syrian military forces will never again deploy chemical weapons against Syrians opposed to the Al-Assad regime; Russian military forces in Syria, along with Russia’s diplomatic clout internationally, continue to protect the Al-Assad regime, as well as maintain Russian foreign-based military power in Syria.

Over the ten years and four months of the Syrian Civil War (so far) over 606,000 people have been killed, 6.7 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 6.6 million Syrians are refugees. The pre-war population of the Syrian Arab Republic was estimated to be 22 million. [9]

The elimination worldwide of both chemical and nuclear weapons from military arsenals — and threat display diplomacy — remain as yet unfulfilled dreams for a more peaceful and secure world.

Notes

[1], [3] Use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_of_chemical_weapons_in_the_Syrian_civil_war

[2] Syria chemical weapons program
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syria_chemical_weapons_program

[4], [5], [6], [7] Unpublished OPCW Douma Correspondence Casts Further Doubt on Claims of ‘Doctored’ Report,
(Bellingcat, 26 October 2020) 
https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2020/10/26/unpublished-opcw-douma-correspondence-raises-doubts-about-transparency-of-opcw-leaks-promoters/

[8] OPCW Confirms Chemical Weapons Use in Syria,
Arms Control Today, (Arms Control Association, July/August 2021)
https://www.armscontrol.org/act/2021-07/news-briefs/opcw-confirms-chemical-weapons-use-syria

[9] Syrian Civil War
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syrian_civil_war

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Kill for Peace, Bomb for Justice, Behead for Nookie

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Kill for Peace, Bomb for Justice, Behead for Nookie

Whenever you want to do something cruel, blame the necessity of it on God: Like the Allah-blamed wannabe caliphate of female sex slavery between Syria and Iraq, even between Arabia and Afghanistan; and the blue-eyed Christ-blamed same in Bible-thumping America.

Right now there is a contest between superpowers, mini-superpowers, micro-superpowers, and proxy wannabe powers to see who can kill the most Muslim civilians from Yemen through Palestine, Syria through Afghanistan, and even out to Burma, but mostly in the Levant.

Just yesterday (14 April 2018) Trump’s America threw in over $200M of ante-in poker chips (i.e., 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles bombing in) to the Syria gaming table of the Levant poker game, in league with returning players England and France, and all three are now mixing it up with new player China and always-in players: Israel, Syria, Russia, Iran, Turkey, shadow-player Arabia, and the usual regional proxy penny-ante bit players.

America must bomb the Syrian military because it kills masses of trapped innocent unarmed civilians, with poison gas and aerial bombs, and we want it to stop. America must not bomb the Israeli military because it kills masses of trapped innocent unarmed civilians, with hails of bullets and aerial bombs, and “we” don’t want it to stop. Nuance is important here, for statesmen-like conscience-free immorality.

Imagine if the Syrian and Israeli ghetto-blasting militaries could 69 their injustices for justice: The Syrian military poison-gas missile-bombing the Israeli military to distract it from killing Palestinian civilians, and the Israeli military retaliating by jet fighter airplane fire-bombing the Syrian military to stop it from killing Syrian civilians, who along with the Palestinians during the welcomed confusion would break out of their respective corralled ghettos to stampede free across the land from the Jordan and Euphrates to the sea, inundating the rabid remnants of the Syrian, Israeli, and Levant-stationed Iranian, Russian, etc., militaries biting each other’s asses in a range war of attrition, as a tsunami of popular revolution sweeping the land clean of authoritarian fundamentalism and imperial capitalism’s Sodom and Gomorrah colonies and Fort Apache military bases.

Such a World War 2-and-Three-Quarters could be a good reality if it didn’t result in a power vacuum that sucked back in new hordes of political opportunists crazed to kill for piece, bomb for “justice” and behead for nookie. To prevent that, we would need a whole series of simultaneous tsunami wave-trains of popular socialist revolution sweeping lands clean worldwide, to bust us all free of capitalism’s ghettos and eradicate the neo-feudalism of stifling authoritarian fundamentalism. That would be World War 3, a long shot last hope for popular liberation that would be increasingly beautiful as it was decreasingly bloody. Nuance is unnecessary for popularly obvious conscience-rooted compassionate morality.

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Kill For Peace, Bomb For Justice, Behead For Nookie
16 April 2018
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/16/kill-for-peace-bomb-for-justice-behead-for-nookie/

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Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?

Why did Russia favor Trump over Hillary in 2016?

By the broadest definitions of “military bases” and “abroad,” Russia has 15 foreign military bases:

11 are located in “near distant” territory that was part of the U.S.S.R. until 1991, when the U.S.S.R. was dissolved;

4 are in distant foreign lands (2 active in Syria, 1 active in Vietnam, 1 inactive in Cuba);

the above total to 15; and also:

7 are active on now rented “near distant” foreign lands;

3 are now inactive on “near distant” foreign lands;

1 is active on formerly “near distant” foreign land now reincorporated into Russia (Crimea);

3 are active in distant foreign lands (2 in Syria, 1 in Vietnam);

1 is inactive in a distant foreign land (Cuba);

the last five types total to 15.

Notice that the 3 active distant foreign bases are:

– the large naval facility on the Syrian (Mediterranean) coast, at Tartus, and the nearby Khmeimim air base;

– the signals intelligence ‘spy’ post near the Golan Heights (for monitoring communications by Syrian rebel groups and the Israeli Defense Forces), which was overrun by the Free Syrian Army rebels in October 2014 (at least two other Russian intelligence centers are now assumed to be located inside Syria);

– the large naval and air force base at Cam Ranh Bay, in Vietnam.

Clearly, Russia’s only distant (not in former USSR territory) foreign military base near the Atlantic Ocean is its naval and air force facilities on the coast of Syria. Its only other distant foreign military base is on the coast of Vietnam, and thus by the South China Sea (and Pacific Ocean).

The United States has about 800 foreign military bases in about 70 countries; and many encircling Russian in the countries now liberated from the former U.S.S.R.

So, it is easy to see that a major priority (perhaps the top priority) of Russian foreign policy would be to ensure the maintenance and security of its three distant foreign military bases, in particular its two large naval and air force bases, in Syria and Vietnam; and most particularly its coastal Syrian base complex. The Russian naval base in Syria is at a focal point between the Levant, Southern Europe and North Africa.

While Russia has a major military presence in Southeast Asia, with its base at Cam Ranh Bay, it also has a second point from which to project military power into the Pacific region (and globally by submarines): its military facilities in Vladivostok (Eastern Siberia, by the Northwest Pacific, Russia’s eastern flank). But its sole ‘distant’ foreign base on its western flank is its base (naval base and associated air force base) in Syria.

Given the above (my estimation of Russian foreign policy and military priorities) what can we deduce about Russian government preferences regarding possible American (US) regimes? In 2016 the US election was narrowed to three potential candidates: Donald Trump (for the Republicans), and either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders (for the Democrats).

From the Russian perspective, Hillary Clinton as US president was most likely to start covert and overt military actions against Russian interests, a.k.a. war with Syria. That same Russian estimation of potential American foreign policies under either a President Donald Trump or President Bernie Sanders would rate the likelihood of anti-Russian (and anti-Syrian) warlike activity by the U.S. as significantly lower. So, naturally they would prefer Trump or Bernie as the US president after 2016.

Since it was obvious that the Democratic machine and entrenched bipartisan neoliberal capitalist cabal would thwart the Sanders campaign and strongly favor Hillary Clinton, Russian political analysts saw Trump as their American candidate of choice. Thus Russian propaganda and agit-prop aimed at the U.S.A. during 2016 was designed to damage the public image of Hillary Clinton (not hard to do), boost the public image of Donald Trump (not easy to do, but a fascinating challenge to clever and patriotic Russian political gamers), and to launch anti-Hillary barbs couched as rabidly pro-Sanders social media messages, which were disguised to appear as authentic expressions by Sanders’ supporters.

Trump’s vanity bristles at the idea that Russian CIA-like covert election tampering could have had any positive effect in gaining him the presidency (by disaffecting potential Hillary voters), so he angrily dismisses the idea of “Russian interference.”

Hillary’s vanity is publicly outraged by the idea that her coronation as the “first female US president” could have been derailed by “Russian interference,“ and she is no doubt ‘privately’ grateful to the Russians for providing her with another excuse to cover for her cupidity, corruption and incompetence, which put off many possible Hillary voters, and which reality was the second most important cause of her Electoral College failing grade and Trump’s success there. The most important cause of Trump’s Electoral College success, of course, was his genuine appeal to white supremacy, anti-female sexism, crony capitalism and latent fascism. These last four factors also have some appeal with the Putin Regime in Russia.

We leave it to Robert Mueller (Special Counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections) to ascertain the facts, but it seems fairly clear why Donald Trump and the Republican Party dislike and try to hobble the Mueller probe, and why the machine Democrats have been so strident in wanting it to continue and expand into a coup d’état by administrative procedures.

A second and more likely to be successful alternative for the Democrats to replace Trump (and many of his enabling Republicans) is by winning elections; but that would require allowing Bernie Sanders to lead the party and set its agenda. So, that’s forbidden: party over country.

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Also appearing at:

Why Did Russia Vote For Trump?
23 February 2018
https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/02/23/why-did-russia-vote-for-trump/

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Sarin In Syria

This article describes sarin, a nerve toxin chemical weapon, and the many ways its presence in the arsenal of the Syrian Arab Republic is affecting the international politics related to the Syrian Civil War. This article was completed in the early hours of May 6, 2013.

Sarin In Syria
14 May 2013
http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/14/sarin-in-syria/

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