what might happen next in the Syrian crisis?

We have all heard the repeated claims from Obama, Kerry, Cameron and many others that “they have no doubt that Assad ordered the chemical attack on Ghouta”. During the Commons debate we also heard lots of numbers bandied around; claims that the regime has already been responsible for five, thirteen or even fourteen previous chemical attacks (these are the numbers I recall). Meanwhile, the White House claim they have intelligence reports pointing directly to Assad’s culpability although admitting that these reports are not exactly “a slam-dunk” – their choice of language hugely revealing. Yet, and in spite of all of these repeated claims that Assad ordered these chemical weapons attacks, there is still as yet nothing substantial to support the allegations.

What we know with certainty is that chemical weapons were used in Ghouta and that it appears highly probable that chemicals of some kind have also been used in earlier attacks. However, the responsibility for each of these attacks has yet to be established. Hopefully, the UN inspectors will ultimately be able determine who was behind these attacks – and if this is not within their mandate then surely that mandate needs to be extended.

By contrast, there has been increasing and corroborating evidence coming from separate reports such as independent journalists as well as new information based on intercepts made by German intelligence sources that it was a rebel faction, and not Assad, that was behind the atrocity at Ghouta – for further details, I direct you back to my previous post, which now includes a number of recent updates.

But then news on Syria is moving quickly. And so, with Obama finding himself increasingly out on a limb, the latest move has come from the Russians, offering an olive branch with proposals for the dismantling of Assad’s entire chemical weapons arsenal. It is to be hoped that America and its partners will agree to move forward with this plan.

Yesterday’s Democracy Now! broadcast featured a summary of the developing situation followed by a fierce debate between activists from both sides. Here is part of that debate:

RANIA MASRI [Lebanese-based human rights activist and professor at the University of Balamand in Lebanon]:

Well, first I want to say I find it not only criminal, but also ahistoric, to imagine that a U.S. bombing campaign lobbied against Syria or any other country would actually result in something humanitarian or something peaceful or something stable. Simply study history. Start with studying history… Look at Iraq. Look at Afghanistan. Look at all others. I find it absolutely abhorrent that we would actually be calling for a larger than a limited military strike on Syria, one.

Part two, we need to recognize—and I have to continue to repeating this—yes, the Syrian army has committed crimes, but so has the so-called Free Syrian Army and the terrorists that they work with. And don’t just quote me on that or Joshua Landis, but quote the United Nations, when we have a U.N. independent panel that was released—they released a report earlier this year in which they said—and I quote—”It’s impossible to choose good guys among the groups of Syrian rebels and send weapons to them.” I think we need to stand clear here and say no to violence committed by any party.

And to do that, there is a very strong political solution. The United States can put pressure on its allies in the region—namely, the Saudis and the Qataris and the Turks—to halt the flood of weapons that’s coming in from Sudan and Libya via Lebanon and Turkey and Jordan to these rebels, halt that, push the Russians to then put pressure on the Syrians, get the Syrians themselves to the negotiating table. We all agree that the only solution can be a political settlement. Kerry has said so. Secretary of Defense Hagel had said so. Any bombing campaign will only result in reducing whatever political capital there is, and providing that political settlement will only give power to extremism on all sides in Syria and will only kill more and more Syrians and result in more and more displacement. This is what we need to be calling for: a halt to the arms trade, stronger demand for political diplomacy, for political negotiations, increased support for humanitarian support for the Syrians, and absolutely no bombing of any kind, limited or expanded.

AARON MATÉ [journalist and Democracy Now! presenter]:

Rania Masri, I wanted to ask you about the comments of Alon Pinkas. He’s the former Israeli consul general in New York. And speaking to The New York Times last week, Pinkas described his take on how Israel is viewing the conflict in Syria. He said, quote, “This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win—we’ll settle for a tie. Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the [strategic] thinking here.”

RANIA MASRI: Yes.

AARON MATÉ: “As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.” Are you worried that that is basically the international approach to Syria right now, is let them bleed?

RANIA MASRI: Well, I mean, I take issue with the term “international,” because we do have very different state parties here. I think it is one of the objectives of the U.S. government, yes, and of course its allies, be they in Israel or be they in the Gulf, that, yes, one of the objectives is to continue to have them, quote, “kill each other,” as was the objective of the U.S. government during the Iraq-Iran War. Yes, I do see that as being one of the objectives, the continuous destruction of Syria as a country and of its people, on all sides, yes.

But I also want to raise this issue. And I’m not just creating a debate for the objective of debate, but I’m actually understanding what’s being said by the other party. While we sit here and we’re opposed to the use of chemical weapons—and, I would argue, opposed to the use of all weapons, not just chemical weapons—it’s important to point out that according to statements made by the United Nations itself, they’ve released statements that, quote, they have “strong suspicion” that the rebels themselves have access and have used sarin gas. And these statements were made earlier this year. So, again, I just want to say that what we need to be working on is a full halt of the arms trade.

Click here to watch the debate or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

And then today’s Democracy Now! broadcast featured an extended interview with Noam Chomsky, who made the following comments with regards to Obama’s presidential address last night:

Well, the Russian plan is a godsend for Obama. It saves him from what would look like a very serious political defeat. He has not been able to obtain virtually any international support for this—the action he’s contemplating. Even Britain wouldn’t support it. And it looked as though Congress wasn’t going to support it either, which would leave him completely out on a limb. This leaves him a way out.

He can maintain the threat of force, which incidentally is a crime under international law, that we should bear in mind that the core principle of the United Nations Charter bars the threat or use of force, threat or use of force. So all of this is criminal, to begin with, but he’ll continue with that. The United States is a rogue state. It doesn’t pay any attention to international law.

He—it was kind of interesting what he didn’t say. This would be a perfect opportunity to ban chemical weapons, to impose the chemical weapons convention on the Middle East. The convention, contrary to what Obama said, does not specifically refer just to use of chemical weapons; it refers to production, storage or use of chemical weapons. That’s banned by the international norm that Obama likes to preach about. Well, there is a country which happens to be—happens to have illegally annexed part of Syrian territory, which has chemical weapons and is in violation of the chemical weapons convention and has refused even to ratify it—namely, Israel. So here’s an opportunity to eliminate chemical weapons from the region, to impose the chemical weapons convention as it’s actually formulated. But Obama was very careful not to say that —for reasons which are too obvious to go into—and that gap is highly significant. Of course, chemical weapons should be eliminated everywhere, but certainly in that region.

The other things that he said were not unusual, but nevertheless kind of shocking to anyone not familiar with U.S. political discourse, at least. So he described the United—he said that for seven decades the United States has been “the anchor of global security.” Really? Seven decades? That includes, for example, just 40 years ago today, when the United States played a major role in overthrowing the parliamentary democracy of Chile and imposing a brutal dictatorship, called “the first 9/11” in Latin America. Go back earlier years, overthrowing the parliamentary system in Iran, imposing a dictatorship; same in Guatemala a year later; attacking Indochina, the worst crime in the postwar period, killing millions of people; attacking Central America; killing—involved in killing—in imposing a dictatorship in the Congo; and invading Iraq—on and on. That’s stability? I mean, that a Harvard Law School graduate can pronounce those words is pretty amazing, as is the fact that they’re accepted without comment.

So what he said is I’m going to lie like a trooper about history; I’m going to suppress the U.S. role, the actual U.S. role, for the last seven decades; I’m going to maintain the threat of force, which is of course illegal; and I’m going to ensure that the chemical weapons convention is not imposed on the region, because our ally, Israel, would be subjected to it. And I think those are some of the main points of his address. 

NOAM CHOMSKY: The appropriate response would be to call for imposing the chemical weapons convention in the Middle East—in fact beyond, but we’ll keep to the Middle East—which would mean that any country that is in violation of that convention, whether it has accepted it or not, would be compelled to eliminate its chemical weapons stores. Just maintaining those stores, producing chemical weapons, all of that’s in violation of the convention, and now is a perfect opportunity to do that. Of course, that would require that U.S. ally Israel give up its chemical weapons and permit international inspections. Incidentally, this should extend to nuclear weapons, as well. […]

The United States is a violent military state. It’s been involved in military action all over the place. It invaded South Vietnam, practically destroyed Indochina, invaded Iraq, elicited a Sunni-Shia conflict, which is now tearing the region to shreds. I don’t have to run through the rest of the record. But the United States moves very quickly to military action, unilaterally. It can—sometimes can get some allies to go along. In this case, it can’t even do that. And it’s just a routine. The United States is self-immunized from international law, which bans the threat or use of force. And this is taken for granted here. So, for example, when President Obama repeatedly says all options are open with regard to Iran, that’s a violation of fundamental international law. It says we are using the threat of force, in violation of international law, to which we are self-immunized. There’s nothing new about this. Can you think of any other country that’s used military force internationally on anything remotely like the scale of the United States during these seven decades when, according to Obama, we’ve been the anchor of global security?

Click here to watch the debate or read a full transcript on the Democracy Now! website.

That there are many still determined to push for strong military action is clear enough. That those pushing most aggressively to ensure such direct intervention include the US and Israeli administrations (not to mention our own less significant warmongers and others especially in the French government) is also obvious. However, with their urgent plans for war significantly stymied by this latest Russian initiative, the danger unfortunately shifts again. For instance, what would happen if the next target for a chemical attack was Israel?

The following is taken from an article published by Russia Today, claiming that multiple sources have confirmed plans for just such a chemical attack on Israel:

A chemical attack may be launched on Israel by Syrian rebels from government-controlled territories as a “major provocation,” multiple sources told RT.

The report comes as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed that Syria puts its chemical weapons arsenal under international control for subsequent destruction in order to prevent a possible military strike against the war-torn country.

Obviously many will dismiss this story as propaganda – pointing out that Russia Today is a state-controlled broadcaster, and perhaps trusting only in stories which are first given credence by our own state-controlled BBC. And, hopefully, it is indeed pure propaganda… for what will we think in the event that Israel is subjected to an attack of precisely this kind?

Do we automatically rally to support Israel’s retaliatory strikes against Assad, and the further calls for a major offensive by America and its allies, even in the knowledge that Israel has already targeted Syria with numerous air strikes during this conflict and that the Syrian government has made no reprisals until now? Or do we ask the question yet again: cui bono? Since if Israel is hit by a chemical attack then what on earth would Assad have to gain from it? So I suggest that we consider these questions carefully and now, in order that we might have some better answers in the event of such a tragedy.

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, Israel, Noam Chomsky, Russia, Syria, USA

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