Syrian chemical weapons: Israel and France fabricate a new case
Seven months after the end of the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, the Syrian army is making progress in the Damascus countryside and the opposition is exerting all its military might to achieve a strategic victory in Aleppo. Recently, news of the regime using poison gas against the opposition has reemerged with Israel leading the charge.
All the voices calling for organizing the Geneva III conference for negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition have faded. The circumstances on the ground that allowed the regime not to give concessions at Geneva II still hold. The Syrian army continues, with its allies, to make progress on the ground. This allows the regime, once again, not to give any serious concessions in any negotiations that will take place in the foreseeable future. It is on this basis that the opposition’s latest battles in Quneitra, Daraa, Kassab, Idlib and Aleppo have been waged.
Until now, it appears that of all the battles, the battle of Aleppo stands in a class of its own. In the battles of Damascus, its countryside (Eastern Ghouta and Qalamoun), Homs and its nearby surroundings, the opposition forces acknowledged their loss. They put up a strong fight just to make the other side pay a heavy price. All the other battles do not make up, in military or moral terms, for losing in Damascus and the central region, except the battle for Aleppo. That is why we see the opposition forces’ massive mobilization in the economic capital of Syria.
The opposition is not merely talking about making progress in Aleppo but is promising to take complete control of the largest city in the north. Based on its discussions, the opposition wants to achieve a quick victory in Aleppo before the regime and its allies finish their battles in Damascus and Homs. Achieving stability in the capital and the central region for the regime will free up a large segment of the elite forces and will allow the Syrian army and its allies to move towards other active fronts. It would then be very difficult for the opposition to achieve progress of any strategic value in the north or the south. Until today, the al-Qaeda-inspired fighters have not been able to make a strategic breakthrough in the north. In Aleppo, the war is led by Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (Army of Foreign Fighters and Supporters) which includes mostly Caucasian fighters who are well-trained and have combat experience.
Against this background, news has emerged once again that the Syrian army has used chemical weapons. Last August, the Syrian government asked for an investigation of an incident whereby militants used chemical weapons in Khan al-Asal in Aleppo. But after the attack on Eastern Ghouta, the regime was accused by Western forces of using poison gas against the opposition. Washington led a campaign threatening an attack on Syria until Russia proposed a solution that required Syria to give up its chemical arsenal. This time, the Syrian government sent a letter to the United Nations on March 25 saying that it monitored communications between the opposition in Jobar, which is adjacent to the capital, indicating that “the terrorist organizations are going to launch attacks by using poison gas with the aim of framing government forces.”
While the opposition has remained silent, Israel this time led the charge of accusing the regime of using chemical weapons. On April 7, the Israeli Channel 10 website reported a “major Israeli security source” saying that the Syrian army has gone back to using chemical weapons against the opposition forces. It used it at least in one case on March 17 in Harasta, eastern Damascus. According to the Israeli security source, the material used was not deadly chemical weapons found on the list of prohibited materials based on the agreement with the West, but rather substances that cripple those exposed to it for several hours.
After four days, the Syrian opposition grabbed the accusation and ran with it. The Syrian National Coalition issued a statement asking the international community to investigate the use of poison gas by the regime in Harasta. The Western press started again to play the tune of the regime using chemical weapons. Yesterday, the regime and the opposition exchanged accusations about using poison gas in the town of Kfar Zita in the Hama countryside.
Washington has distanced itself from this debate so far. The State Department’s spokesperson, Jennifer Psaki, said yesterday that her country does not have proof of chemical weapons use. The British and the French seem more excited than others to take up the issue. Western diplomatic sources in Paris say that since the failure of the Geneva II conference, the French authorities have been talking about the possibility of the Syrian regime using chemical weapons that are not internationally prohibited and that the international community must act to deter the regime.
The source likened this claim to the audio recording of a secret meeting of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s work team published on March 27 in which they talked about creating a pretext that would allow Turkey to intervene militarily in Syria. But intervention does not seem possible at this point. According to a source close to the regime in Syria, the goal of “this intimidation is twofold. Exonerating the opposition of what it is doing and a desperate attempt to draw red lines in front of the the Syrian army and its allies in their battle in the Damascus countryside so the opposition can make some progress in the north.”