Why frighten people with Syrian chemical weapons?
Recent statements by senior officials of the United States and other countries concerning Syria’s possible use of chemical weapons against opposition fighters have raised a legitimate question — who do the statements benefit, and why are they being made?
US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told Congress that chemical weapons have been used twice during the conflict. Secretary of State John Kerry said previously that there is a good evidence that the Syrian Army has used chemical weapons against the rebels.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also said that he has “evidence” that the Syrian government has employed chemical weapons against the opposition. In an interview he gave the US news media Erdogan said Turkish hospitals are treating patients injured by chemical weapons in Syria. He flatly rejected the suggestion that opposition units could have used the chemical weapons.
To begin with, we need to know what kind of chemical weapons Damascas has and where they are located. After all, Syria is one of seven states that have not signed the 1993 Convention banning chemical weapons, and, although until recently it had officially denied possessing chemical weapons, Western experts believe it has an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. Syria offically admitted possessing chemical and biological weapons for the first time on July 23, 2012. Damascus also let it be known that it could employ them as a means of defense if subjected to foreign aggression. Then it repeatedly said that it would not use them against its own citizens under any circumstances, even if members of the opposition get hold of them. Syrian authorities subsequently said the rebels had captured a chemical plant near Aleppo and expressed concern that they might use chemical weapon components. The Syrian Interior Ministry sent a letter about that to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. The plant in question is obviously the Safira Plant near Aleppo, which was captured by the al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front. That plant specializes in producing sodium hydroxide and hydrogen chloride. News from Aleppo indicates that government troops were able to recapture the plant, but that did not end the danger because the rebels could have stolen a quantiy of CW agents or components used in CW manufacture in order later to use them against the army or to create a provocation. That has evidently happened, but the United States was quick to say that they were used not by the rebels but by government forces against the rebels.
I would like to make it clear that Syria’s chemical weapons were developed not with Soviet or Russian aid, but with the assistance of the countries that have now joined the anti-Syrian opposition, primarily France and Germany. Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons is intended to provide strategic parity with Israel, which possesses nuclear weapons. Syria views chemical weapons as a vital component of its armed forces. Its program to develop chemical weapons began in the 1970s with the active assistance of West European companies, mainly German and French, and was based on a system of dual-use technologies in which the same plant manufactured both civilian and military products. Thus, Syria began producing mustard (a blister agent) and organophosphorus nerve agents using its own raw materials and key components of its own manufacture. CW agent and component production was concentrated in the vicinity of Damascus, at a petrochemical plant in Homs (VX), in Hama (sarin, tabun and VX), and in Aleppo (near Safira).
So who needs all this drama over the use of chemical weapons? One thing is perfectly clear — if the United States had proof the the Syrian Army has used chemical weapons, it would have presented it to the UN Security Council long ago. Incidently, not even Israel, the primary country threatened by Syrian chemical weapons, has presented any proof. It has, however, periodically warned that CW agents could fall into the hands of extremists in the Syrian opposition. In other words, Israel is worried about the radical islamist opposition, not Damascus.
The answer is obvious. The world witnessed something similar in 2003 when Iraqi WMD, including chemical weapons, were used as a pretext for the United States, Great Britain and their allies to occupy that country. But they found no WMD or programs to develop them. Ten years ago Washington and London were nervously predicting that Saddam Hussein might use chemical weapons. Incidentally, the production of chemical weapons for military use requires a major industrial capacity. The US and British intelligence communities told Bush and Blair that the toxic agents Hussein used in 1988 against the Kurds in the Kurdish town of Halabja had a foreign origin. British experts tried to find out where they came from, but it remains a mystery.
However, Washington and London needed to take Iraq, so they said the world was urgently in need of saving from Iraqi WMD, chemical weapons included. To start with, in February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell showed the UN Security Council pictures of some non-existent mobile units supposedly used for making chemical weapons and fermenting anthrax bacteria — then the invasion of Iraq got underway in the spring. Incidentally, Powell later apologized to the Security Council for his “show” — he said he had been misled by US intelligence reports. And his “pictures” had been drawn by some students in London and passed to the CIA by the British as “proof.”
Now the old spectacle called a “Chemical Threat by a Bloody Dictator” has been revived.. Characteristically, the British are again among the show’s directors, and military sources In the Persian Gulf countries have “leaked” information saying that all of the chemical weapons are concentrated in five airbases and kept under special controls..
The information war by American and British television and Qatar’s Al Jazeera gained momentum after that. The news agencies, the press and the electronic media started filling up with talk about how the Syrian “dictator” needs to be stopped. This hysteria clearly has one goal — to prepare public opinion for military action against Syria because Russia is preventing the UN Security Council from adopting resolutions giving permission to impose no-fly zones over Syrian airspace and establish protected humanitarian regions for refugees inside Syria. Without direct military aggression by NATO and several Persian Gulf monarchies (Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which are willing to finance a Western invasion of Syria), the opposition does not have the capability to topple Assad’s legitimate government.
Thus, the mystery of Syrian chemical weapons is easily solved.
Petr Lvov Holds a Doctorate in Political Science. Exclusively for New Eastern Outlook.