Won't get fooled again? Doubts emerge over Syria gas attack

Whoever is behind chemical warfare in Syria, there is no justification for western intervention


Less than a month ago the British prime minister was demanding immediate military intervention in Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack allegedly by the Assad regime. David Cameron claimed there was 75% certainty about the provenance of the attack. The US government went further, with vice president Joe Biden claiming that they were certain this attack was the responsibility of the Syrian government.

But an article by Robert Fisk now throws doubt on those accounts. He argues that there is some evidence that the missiles that fired the chemical weapons, originally manufactured by the Soviet Union, may have found their way to the Syrian battlefield via Libya.

He also says there are questions about who was responsible for the attacks:

Grave doubts are being expressed by the UN and other international organisations in Damascus that the sarin gas missiles were fired by Assad's army. While these international employees cannot be identified, some of them were in Damascus on 21 August and asked a series of questions to which no one has yet supplied an answer. Why, for example, would Syria wait until the UN inspectors were ensconced in Damascus on 18 August before using sarin gas little more than two days later – and only four miles from the hotel in which the UN had just checked in? 

If these doubts prove to be correct, it may mean that the attack came not from the government but from a section of the opposition. In addition it demonstrates that one of the effects of the previous ‘humanitarian intervention’ that took place in 2011 in Libya has been to make it a centre for deadly weapons distribution in the Middle East.

As far as I am concerned, there can be no justification for the use of chemical weapons, whoever is behind them. Nor can there be any justification for their manufacture and sale. But we should remember that this attack was used as the pretext to justify war on a potentially devastating scale.

When David Cameron recalled MPs just days before they were due back anyway, he expected to be able to force through backing for the then-imminent attack with ease. Had parliament voted for war, then we would have already seen an attack by cruise missiles, described as a ‘punishment attack’ but in reality planned as something considerably more substantial. We would have seen a fourth major western intervention in the Middle East and south Asia within 12 years. 

It is impossible to know exactly what the outcome would now be, but we can assess from previous experience that such an attack would have led to high levels of casualties, a growth in the already terrible refugee problem, and a much greater instability within the whole region. In fact, the threat of attack was in itself enough to exacerbate the refugee crisis.

That would have been bad enough. That's why I opposed, and still oppose, such a strike, regardless of who was to blame. But for a military intervention to have happened as revenge for an attack which did not come from the Syrian government would have been even more shocking. It would have been a shameful episode on a par with the Iraq invasion over weapons of mass destruction. 

This underlines the importance of that vote. The vote in the British parliament against a military intervention in Syria was historic in its own right. It had a profound effect on international politics, forcing the US and Obama to agree to delay the attack and go for a vote in Congress, and leading eventually to an agreement to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. It transformed the situation from an imminent threat of intervention to one where that option is for the time being off the table.

The vote and the abandonment of a military option was a victory for the anti-war movement and for public opinion generally, which is strongly against western intervention following the experience of the past 12 years. It also shows a degree of scepticism about the claims of governments who argue with certainty about the possession of deadly weapons and use this as an excuse for going to war.

More widely, it is clear that the war on terror isn’t working. The terrible events of the past few days in Nairobi demonstrate that. Missing from most of the analysis is much mention of Kenya’s role as the lead African country involved in fighting in neighbouring Somalia, a country which has seen repeated interventions over the past 15 years in the name of ending terrorism.

In 2001, Afghanistan was seen as centre of the ‘terror threat’. Now terrorism is on the increase in the Middle East and North Africa. Much of its origins are connected with opposition to the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the oppression of the Palestinians, and the repression of political opposition across the region.

If this is success, what would failure look like?

Source: Stop the War Coalition

Tags: syria

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