Syria: Rebels Could Resort to Chemical Weapons Provocation

Multiple reports have appeared recently revealing that the US and its allies attack against Syria is imminent. A new propaganda story is getting more and more coverage today. According to unconfirmed reports, citing Western intelligence agencies, Syrian technicians are already loading artillery shells and airborne munitions with unconventional agents. They say that chemicals used to produce sarin gas, a deadly nerve agent, were being loaded into bombs some time ago.

US President Barack Obama has stated a number of times that the movement or use of chemical weapons inside Syria would be a «red line» for possible US military involvement in the conflict. Several other Western countries have also issued strong warnings last couple of weeks to Syria not to use non – conventional arms. Speaking in Prague at the beginning of this December, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated President Barack Obama’s declaration that Syrian action on chemical weapons was «red line» for the United States that would prompt action. She didn’t address news reports suggesting fresh activity at Syrian chemical weapons depots, but insisted that Washington would address any threat that arises. «We have made our views very clear: This is a red line for the United States», Clinton told reporters. «I’m not going to telegraph in any specifics what we would do in the event of credible evidence that the Assad regime has resorted to using chemical weapons against their own people. But suffice it to say, we are certainly planning to take action if that eventuality were to occur». Sounds menacing enough.

In response to the threats, the Syrian Foreign Ministry has issued a brief statement saying that Damascus will not use chemical weapons against its own people, «if they were available, under any circumstances against its people». The ministry also stressed that Syria has stated repeatedly that it «will not use these types of weapons».

Israeli involvement and wider scenario

Israel feels at risk from the deepening conflict in Syria and it would intervene to stop jihadi rebels or Lebanese Hezbollah terrorists from seizing Assad’s chemical weapons. Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren made similar remarks in his December 10 interview with Fox News, but stressed that any signs of chemical weapons being passed to terrorist groups like Hezbollah would be a «game-changer» and would constitute a «red line» for Israel. Oren said, «Were those weapons to pass into the wrong hands – Hezbollah’s hands for example – that would be a game-changer for us». The Israeli ambassador said, «We have a very clear red line about those chemical weapons passing into the wrong hands. Can you imagine if Hezbollah and its 70,000 rockets would get its hands on chemical weapons? That could kill thousands of people», he added. At that, Oren could not confirm reports saying that Syria was moving components for the lethal sarin nerve gas.

On December 9 the British Sunday Times published the article called Israel Tracks Syria’s Chemical Arsenal by Uzi Mahnaimi, Tel Aviv and Lucy Fisher saying Israeli Special Forces were operating in Syria to track the regime’s stocks of chemical and biological weapons. The operation is part of a «secret war» to monitor Syria’s non-conventional armaments and sabotage their development, the publication stated. The newspaper cites an Israeli source that said, «For years we’ve known the exact location of Syria’s chemical and biological munitions. But in the past week we’ve got signs that munitions have been moved to new locations». If evidence mounts that Assad already has used chemical weapons, the United States and Israel might coordinate to carry out a ground invasion, according to the London newspaper.

The fear is that Assad could attack the Jewish state with chemical weapons in a last stand to rally support from the Arab world. It’s not the first time Israel may be using pecial operations forces for keeping watch on alleged chemical weapons stockpiles. For instance, on March 25, 2012 The Sunday Times presented a story Israeli Spies Scour Iran in Nuclear Hunt, that said «Israel is using a permanent base in Iraqi Kurdistan to launch cross-border intelligence missions in an attempt to find ‘smoking gun’ evidence that Iran is building a nuclear warhead».

Hypothetical scenario

Syria warned the United Nations on December 7 that rebels may resort to using chemical arms after they captured a chlorine factory near Aleppo. According to the Syrian Foreign Ministry, «Terrorist groups may resort to using chemical weapons against the Syrian people… after having gained control of a toxic chlorine factor», adding that Syria would never use chemical weapons. The factory in question belongs to the Syrian-Saudi Chemicals Company (SYSACCO) factory near the town of Safira, which was taken over earlier last week by rebel fighters from the jihadist Al-Nusra Front. It produces sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride. The facility is situated in an agricultural area and has been the subject of numerous complaints from farmers for polluting the local water supply. The foreign ministry also cited reports that Al Qaeda affiliated militants are manufacturing chemical weapons at a laboratory near the Turkish city of Gaziantep, and that they have threatened to use them against Syrian civilians. Indeed, reports circulated a half a year ago that rebel fighters had been given gas masks and were willing to stage a chemical weapons attack to blame on the Assad regime and open the way for NATO military intervention. A March 2012 Brookings Institution report entitled Saving Syria: Assessing Options for Regime Change outlined the scenario – where a manufactured humanitarian crisis would be cited as justification for use of force.

On December 8, 2012 the Independent published an article by veteran reporter Robert Frisk called Bashar al-Assad, Syria and the Truth about Chemical Weapons lambasting Western anti-Syria campaign. The author worked in Syria for many years, according to him the Syrian regime has never used chemical weapons. The journalist noted, however, that an «infantile new fairy tale has begun» in the Western media, that Syria has previously used such weapons against its own people, much like Saddam Hussein did in the 1980s. Fisk points out that Saddam, as an ally of the US, used chemical weapons supplied by the US, against Iranian soldiers.

A shocking You Tube video obtained by the Syria Tribune shows alleged Syrian rebels testing chemical weapons on lab rabbits before making threats to use them against Syria’s pro-Assad Alawite population. The video presents the evidence that suggests that the rebels are considering the prospect of using chemical weapons. It shows lab equipment and chemical containers. Some of the containers display English writing and some bear the label of Tekkim, a Turkish chemicals company.

On June 10, 2012 the Russia Today came out with a report Syrian Rebels Aim to Use Chemical Weapons, Blame Damascus. It said the armed Syrian opposition got their hands on chemical weapons, which they had acquired from Libya and allegedly planned to use it against civilians and pin the atrocity on the Bashar al-Assad regime. The Libyan stockpile of chemical weapons was a matter of great concern during last year’s civil war in the country. There were fears that they may end up in the hands of the terrorists and used elsewhere in the world. No information of the weapons missing was made public. The report appeared after British journalist Alex Thomson from Channel 4 News accused a Syrian opposition group of trying to set him and his crew up to be killed by government forces. He said a western journalist death would give bad publicity for Damascus.

Russia’s stance

Russia is concerned by the prospect of Syrian chemical weapons falling into terrorist hands, Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on December 13. According to him, «The greatest danger is that parts of Syria continue to fall under the control of the opposition where extremists, terrorists, and al-Qaeda have strong positions». He pointed out that could have very serious consequences. As to Bogdanov, «Everyone is afraid of that, including our American partners». The official added that militants are already gaining control of military arsenals on the ground, including antiaircraft missiles, and that it could also happen to chemical weapon stockpiles. «This has already happened in Aleppo with the seizure of a plant manufacturing chemical components that can be used for terrorist purposes», Bogdanov stressed.

Before that Russia has criticized NATO for deciding to deploy Patriot missiles along the Turkish border with Syria, saying that the measure signifies the organization’s bid to intervene in the Syrian crisis. Russia’s new ambassador to NATO, Alexander Grushko, made the remarks on December 7, three days after the alliance approved Turkey’s request for the deployment of the surface-to-air missiles along its border with Syria. «This is not a threat to us, but this is an indication that NATO is moving towards engagement and that’s it», Grushko told reporters. «We see a danger of further involvement of NATO into the situation in Syria as a result of provocation or some border incidents», Grushko added. He also rejected claims that Damascus plans to use its alleged chemical weapons against insurgents fighting government forces. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had earlier warned that the deployment could spark regional conflagration and an armed conflict involving NATO.

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The whole story makes the 2003 events, that had provoked the US and «the coalition of the willing» invasion of Iraq, come to mind. There was the same kind of weapons of mass destruction hype prior to launching the war that turned out to be an outright fabrication later… The anti-Assad campaign is taking place against the background of heavy military preparations while NATO Patriot air defense systems are being deployed along Syrian borders. Their deployment actually means the establishment of «no-fly zone» where the West-backed rebels could establish their own rule and use it as a springboard for anti-government activities – a clear provocation to aggravate the things.

The leak in The Sunday Times mentioned above could be construed as part of the ongoing psychological operation against Syria with a view to building a pretext for waging a preemptive war on this country. The alleged goal is to make public opinion believe without evidence the Syrian government has committed a crime against its own people tantamount to political suicide. The allegation of the chemical weapons is ridiculous. The Syrian government knows such a move would give the pretext to attack it. A false pretext may serve to pressure the UN Security Council to give NATO a «legal mandate» to intervene in Syria under the «responsibility to protect» concept. The ‘chemical weapons’ scenario seems to be the best way to make international community consent to another military adventure in the region. The other thing is some of the rebels are notorious for committing human crimes and atrocities; they are more likely to resort to such provocative tactics to achieve their goals. The Iraqi lesson shows this point has solid substantiation.

Source: Strategic Culture Foundation

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