UNITED NATIONS – Russian Deputy Ambassador to the UN, Vladimir Safronkov, on Friday urged U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley to refrain from insulting Russia and to put collective work at the Security Council on a healthy basis.
“I’d like to ask the speakers here – the U.S. representative and members of other delegations – to refrain from insulting my country,” Safronkov said at an emergency meeting of the Security Council. “No one has the moral right to do it. We never allow ourselves to do such things.”
As the U.S. Ambassador and current President of the UN Security Council, Haley “has a real chance to put collective work at the Council on a healthy footing but this will never happen if the viewpoint of just one nation is passed off for absolute truth.”
Nikki Haley alleged in her speech at the meeting Russia, which “(…) is supposed to be a guarantor of the removal of chemicals weapons from Syria”, had failed to do so, “(…) as innocent Syrians continue to be murdered in chemical attacks.”
“It could be that Russia is knowingly allowing chemical weapons to remain in Syria,” she claimed. “It could be that Russia has been incompetent in its efforts to remove the chemical weapons. Or, it could be that the Assad regime is playing the Russians for fools, telling them that there are no chemical weapons, all the while stockpiling them on their bases.”
“The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar Assad,” Haley said.
On Tuesday 4 April there were reports of children and other civilians killed by chemical poisoning in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria. There were contradictory reports, some saying they smelled the gas; others claiming it caused immediate death like odorless sarin.
On Wednesday 5 April, President Trump blamed the Syrian government despite conflicting reports and contradictory information and accusations. He said, “Yesterday’s chemical attack in Syria [was] against innocent people including women, small children and even beautiful little babies. Their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated … my attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much.”
On Thursday, 6 April, Trump ordered a ‘targeted military strike’ on Syria with 50 tomahawk missiles attacking the primary Syrian air base near Homs. This base is used to support the combat with ISIS in eastern Syria and Nusra/Al Qaeda in Idlib province.
As I will show below, it is likely the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun were caused by an armed opposition faction, not the Syrian government. The goal was precisely what has happened: a media firestorm leading to direct U.S. aggression against Syria.
What Happened and How?
On April 4 news broke of a ‘chemical weapon’ attack in Syria. Western media and governments quickly blamed the Syrian government. Just as quickly, neoconservatives such as Sen. John McCain recalled the 2013 crisis when Pres Obama ultimately decided not to attack Syria. Israeli PM Netanyahu chimed in with a not-too-subtle renewed call for war on Syria. He tweeted that it’s time for the international community to “fulfill its obligations from 2013.”
Basic facts include:
– On 22 March, the government controlled town of Khattab was over-run by militants with some civilians kidnapped and taken to the nearby opposition controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun.
– On 4 April, up to 80 persons, including many children, died at Khan Sheikhoun. Some showed signs of chemical poisoning. Photographs, videos, analyses and other sources are documented at “A Closer Look At Syria”.
– one of the videos features a UK born and raised Dr. Shajul Islam. He received his UK medical license in 2012 but had the license suspended due to reports he was involved in the kidnapping in Syria of journalist John Cantlie.
– Many of the video scenes depict an area set into a limestone quarry with apparent caves and storage depots. There are flat bed trucks with bodies scattered on the ground in this semi-industrial area. Other videos show scenes in medical clinic.
– Photographs show “White Helmet” individuals handling bodies without gloves which is very strange if they died or were dying from chemical poison.
Who is responsible?
There are three theories about what happened:
– The western government narrative is that the Syrian “regime” is responsible. They fired illegal chemical weapons into the town, primarily killing innocent civilians and many children.
– The Syrian army acknowledges firing air strikes but deny using chemical weapons at this or any time. This area was the base for militant attacks against government areas in Hama province in the preceding weeks. The Russian Ministry of Defense says that militants had a weapons production factory including chemical weapon ingredients, and that may have been hit and caused the chemical weapon deaths.
– A third theory is the kidnapped civilians from Khattab were killed or poisoned by the militants as part of a staged event.
Evidence Pointing to the Militants
Looking at the facts, history and overall circumstances, it is far more likely the armed opposition is responsible for this event. Here is why:
(1) The incident and publicity help the opposition and hurt the government.
Crime investigations usually begin with the question: Who has a motive? In this case, it’s strikingly clear that the armed opposition and their supporters benefit from this event. They have used the story to further demonize the Assad government and make renewed calls for US and “the world” to intervene.
The Syrian government is making steady advances in many parts of the country. They have no reason to use chemical weapons; they have every reason to NOT use chemical weapons. They know very well that the armed opposition has immediate access to major media.
Accusations that the Syrian government intentionally attacks civilians is contradicted by their policies and actions. As demonstrated last December in Aleppo, civilians are welcomed from opposition areas into government controlled areas. Even Syrian militants are welcomed after they sign an agreement to lay down arms.
It is also relevant to consider timing. There is a pattern of sensational events helpful to the armed opposition occurring simultaneous with critical international meetings or actions. In this case, the events in Khan Sheikhoun occurred the day before an important conference on Syria in Brussels. The conference titled “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” has been effectively sidetracked by news about the chemical weapons attack and the Syrian government being blamed.
(2) Extremists were responsible for the August 2013 Chemical Weapon attack in Damascus.
Western supporters of the armed opposition were quick to blame the Syrian government for the chemical attack in Ghouta on 21 August 2013. However, subsequent investigations by the most credible investigative journalists and researchers concluded the Syrian government was probably NOT responsible. Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry concluded the attack was most likely carried out by militants with support from Turkey. The in-depth examination titled Who Ghouta concluded “The only plausible scenario that fits the evidence is an attack by opposition forces.” An MIT study made a detailed trajectory analysis, concluded that the missile could not have been fired from government territory and warned “Faulty intelligence could have led to an unjustified US military action.”
(3) Armed Opposition Groups have a history of Staging Incidents
From the start, the Syrian conflict has included an information war. Hillary Clinton boasted of “training for more than a thousand activists, students and independent journalists.” In December 2012, NBC journalist Richard Engel was reportedly kidnapped and abused by “shabiha” supporters of the Syrian government. Engel and his film crew were “liberated” by Free Syrian Army rebels after a gunfight with the Assad supporting kidnappers. In reality, the entire episode from kidnapping to rescue was a hoax designed to demonize Assad supporters and glorify the “rebels”. The true story emerged years later after the actual events were leaked. When it was going to be made public, Engel finally admitted the truth.
(4) Supporters of the armed opposition have a history of fabricating stories which demonize the Syrian Government.
In February 2014, it was announced that a defecting Syrian military photographer, who was anonymous but code named “Caesar”, had 55 thousand photos showing the torture and murder of 11 thousand innocent Syrian civilians. This news received sensational media attention with live interviews on CNN and front page coverage throughout the western world. The news relied on the judgment of legal prosecutors who “verified” the story and produced a “Caesar Report”. This was released the day before the start of Geneva negotiations. It effectively disrupted the talks and facilitated the “rebels” refusal to negotiate and walk away. In reality, the “verification” and report were commissioned by the government of Qatar which has been a major funder of the armed opposition. Since then it has been discovered that nearly half the 55 thousand photos show the opposite of what was claimed: they show dead Syrian soldiers and victims of explosions NOT tortured civilians. That is just one of the findings confirming the fraud involved in this sensational story. A concise expose of “Caesar” is here.
How the Public has been Misinformed on Syria
Historian and journalist Stephen Kinzer has said, “Coverage of the Syrian war will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of the American press.” Here are a few examples showing the bias, half-truths and outright false statements regarding the events at Khan Sheikhoun:
– The PBS Newshour typically features two guests who are questioned by the host. The problem is that their guests consistently share the same basic viewpoint. On 4 April, one guest was from the Soros funded Physicians for Human Rights. She claimed, “We know that sarin has been used before by the Assad regime.” In fact that has NOT been confirmed by any credible organization. On the contrary, the most thorough investigations point to sarin being used by the armed opposition NOT the Syrian government. The other guest was Andrew Tabler from the neoconservative Israeli associated “Washington Institute”. His editorial from last Fall makes clear what he wants: “The case for (finally) bombing Assad.” The discussion on Syria at PBS Newshour is consistently biased.
– The New York Times feature story on 4 April was “Worst Chemical Attack in Years in Syria; U.S. Blames Assad“. One of the authors, Michael Gordon, was an influential proponent for “weapons of mass destruction in Iraq” that justified the 2003 invasion. But that has apparently not hurt his career. In this story on Syria, he and co-author Anne Barnard claim that “American intelligence agencies concluded” the 2013 attack was carried out by the Syrian government. That is false. The intelligence agencies did NOT agree and the “assessment” came from the White House not the intelligence agencies. It is astounding that they either do not know this or they are intentionally misleading the public. Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity explained the significance in their memorandum “A Call for Syria – Sarin Proof”.
– DemocracyNow! is a popular television/radio show. It is widely considered to be “progressive” but is also highly biased in its presentation on Syria. It almost solely promotes the perspective of those who support the armed opposition and/or western intervention in Syria. On April 5, they interviewed Dr. Rola Hallam. She is infamous for being the key player in the documentary “Saving Syria’s Children” which purports to show a chemical weapon attack in Aleppo but was actually staged. The “documentary” was then broadcast at a critical time trying to influence the 2013 vote in British parliament for an attack on Syria. On April 6, DemocracyNow! interviewed another “Syrian” who lives in the West and promotes western intervention: Lina Sergie Attar. Viewers of DemocracyNow! have no idea that the majority of Syrians support the government and especially the national Army in their struggle against invasion and terrorism.
Public understanding about what’s happening in Syria has been seriously confused by the bad analysis of prominent analysts. Some have suggested that Israel was content to live with Assad. Former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren clarified the truth as he said “we always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to those who were backed by Iran.” In short, Israel prefers Al Qaeda or ISIS or, better yet, the conflict to continue so that both sides are destroyed.
Before the conflict began, in 2010, Secy of State Hillary Clinton made demands to Damascus that all revolved around Israeli interests. She wanted Syria to end its alliance with Hezbollah, to reduce its interactions with Iran and to come to an agreement with Israel. In contrast with what some analysts have said, Israeli interests have been a major factor driving and maintaining the conflict. With the liberation of Aleppo and prospect of a victory by Syria and allies, Israeli demands to escalate the war have probably increased.
Some of the world’s most famed political analysts have contributed to the confusion and lack of resistance as the war on Syria has continued. For example, Noam Chomsky on Democracy two days ago said “The Assad regime is a moral disgrace, the Russians with them.” Evidently he believes all or most of the accusations which have been said about the ‘regime’. In sharp contrast with Chomsky’s assessment, it’s remarkable that Syria has held together as well as it has in the face of attack by some of the most powerful and richest countries on earth. Over 100,000 Syrians have given their lives defending their country against the onslaught. Russia has supported their ally in compliance with international law, continually trying to work with the U.S. coalition as a “partner” against terrorism. Evidently Chomsky is unaware or does not believe the extent of lies that have been created around Syria. Evidently he does not recognize the distorted and shameful media coverage mentioned by Kinzer. Everyone makes mistakes but Chomsky’s poor analysis here is a whopper. If he was to visit Syria and talk with real Syrians I think his perception would be dramatically changed just as described by the PBS Frontline crew here. With consummate hypocrisy, both Syrian and Russian governments are now demonized by western neoconservatives and liberals who have done little or nothing to stop their own government’s collusion with terrorists raining havoc and destruction in Syria.
The need to restore International Law
International law has been undermined and replaced by “humanitarian law”. This has contributed to the current disastrous situation whereby the U.S. and NATO are waging aggression under a humanitarian pretext.
International law regarding attacks on sovereign states is clear: it is illegal unless authorized by the UN Security Council or in legitimate self defense. It is clear that Syria poses no threat to any of its neighbors or any other nation. It is also clear that Syria has been the victim for six long years of aggression by foreign states which have funded and promoted a proxy army of fanatics and mercenaries from around the world.
As the former Nicaraguan Foreign Minister and President of the UN General Assembly, Father Miguel D’Escoto, has said: “What the U.S. government is doing in Syria is tantamount to a war of aggression, which, according to the Nuremberg Tribunal, is the worst possible crime a State can commit against another State.”
There has been a sustained attempt to derail Trump’s campaign pledge to stop the US “regime change” policy. This has been accompanied by a semi-hysterical demonization of Syria’s ally Russia. Liberals have been willing accomplices in this campaign which serves the interests of the U.S. military security complex, Israel and Saudi Arabia.
It looks like the foreign policy hawks and neocons have succeeded. Yesterday’s attacks on Syria mark an escalation in the war of aggression and violation of international law against Syria. This could lead to WW3 unless there is sufficient outcry and opposition.
Rick Sterling is an investigative journalist. He lives in the SF Bay Area and can be contacted at email@example.com.
One might well expect the corporate/state media to twice be complicit for the gas attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime scenario. One would hope, however, that media independent of the state and corporate sponsors would apply a higher journalistic standard. Yet Democracy Now! has been pushing the imperialist agenda for regime change in Syria. Tendentious recent reports from DN make this abundantly clear. The so-called independent  DN has also lured octogenarian professor Noam Chomsky to criticize the “Assad regime.”
DN begins with the leading statement of “worldwide outrage mounts over an alleged chemical weapons attack in Idlib province, which was reportedly carried out by the Assad government…” No evidence is presented to support the accusation, and the accusers also are unnamed. What kind of journalism is this?
It would be completely nonsensical and insane for Syria to use chemical weapons while the war is turning in its favor. And, of course, there is evidence that refutes the allegation. For the record, when a Zionist and war criminal Barack Obama was bent on attacking Syria in 2013 following false accusations that the Assad government used sarin gas in Ghouta, Syria – to preempt the threatened invasion Assad agreed (UN Resolution 2118) to give up Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons (a deterrence against Israel’s nuclear weapons). Now the Syrian government stands accused of using a chemical that was disposed of under international supervision. Is the Syrian government that stupid to risk another threat of invasion by using a non-conventional attack? And why is this new gas attack in Idlib taking place just after Rex Tillerson declared that it is the Syrian people who should decide the fate of their current president?
The professor tells DN: “Syria is a horrible catastrophe. The Assad regime is a moral disgrace. They’re carrying out horrendous acts, the Russians with them.”
How about a dose of skepticism? After all, Chomsky speculated recently of a Donald Trump-orchestrated false flag. Chomsky’s opening omissions speak loudly. He goes straight at the Syrian government; he does not mention involvement by the US, Israel, and other western states. He does not mention the western, Saudi, and Qatari-backed terrorist mercenaries that seek to topple a foreign government through violence.
Indeed Chomsky, the linguist, has dipped into the imperialist lexicon. He criticizes the Assad “regime.” I am unaware of Chomsky ever referring to a Trump, Obama or other US “regime” or of an Israeli “regime.” To be sure, Chomsky has been a critic of US terrorism and imperialism and of Zionist crimes against Palestinians, but I am unaware of Chomsky referring to US, Israeli, or other western regimes as a “moral disgrace.” It might be implicit but not explicit.
Moreover, to criticize “the Assad regime” seems starkly at odds with a fundamental tenet of Chomsky’s philosophy: that his concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by his own state, the USA.
Chomsky is even on record as denying American-Israeli intent at regime change in Syria. If Chomsky is correct, then that would signal a profound change in American imperialist direction. In 2007, former US general Wesley Clark, told of a classified memo describing the US “tak[ing] out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran.”
DN asks Chomsky: “Why the Russians with them [the ‘Assad regime’]?”
Replied Chomsky: “Well, pretty simple reason: Syria is their one ally in the whole region. Not a close ally, but they do have—their one Mediterranean base is in Syria. It’s the one country that’s more or less cooperated with them. And they don’t want to lose their one ally. It’s very ugly, but that’s what’s happening.”
That is Chomsky’s assessment, but it is factually inaccurate. Iran and Hezbollah are helping fight the terrorists in Syria. Also Chomsky does not discuss an important point: that Russia was invited to aid the Syrian government, as were Iran and Hezbollah. The US is uninvited and Syrian president Assad calls US forces in Syria “invaders.” Chomsky is well versed as to what happens when uninvited US forces show up in foreign lands – among them Korea, Viet Nam, Panama, Grenada, Somalia, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, etc: genocide, millions killed, millions displaced, economic infrastructure destroyed, and vassalage.
Later in the interview, Chomsky almost exculpates the Russians when he mentions “an initiative from the Russians … for a negotiated settlement, in which Assad would be phased out, not immediately…. The West would not accept it, not just the United States. France, England, the United States simply refused to even consider it. At the time, they believed they could overthrow Assad, so they didn’t want to do this, so the war went on.”
Is the West’s refusal of a negotiated settlement not a “moral disgrace”?
Says Chomsky, “Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting jihadi groups, [Italics added. Again Chomsky borrows from the imperialist lexicon. Why not characterize, then, western groups as “crusaders”?] which are not all that different from ISIS. So you have a horror story on all sides. The Syrian people are being decimated…. the country is simply being destroyed. It’s descending to suicide.”
Suicide? When US invaders are in Syria, when western governments and operatives are arrayed against the Syrian government, when Saudi and Qatari governments are supporting terrorists, and when Syrian people are being killed and made into refugees, then why describe this as a “suicide”? Does Chomsky want to imply that the Syrian people bear responsibility for the horror and decimation imposed upon them from outside? It sounds absurd.
As a first imperative, all uninvited outsiders should vacate Syria immediately. As a second imperative, all parties responsible for aggression against Syria and its peoples must be charged and prosecuted. Third, any crimes committed by the Assad government in allegedly putting down peaceful protests must be investigated and where such charges are valid, then prosecution must be carried out.
Noam Chomsky has garnered enormous respect for his opposition to US crimes, support for social justice, and anarchist leanings. Yet, Chomsky also stakes out positions that appear flawed (his statement that the truth doesn’t matter as to 9-11), even morally questionable (his opposition to the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement).
It is imperative is that people become informed. We should all listen to the words of intellectuals and persons who have demonstrated great integrity, but we must also pay heed to our internal dissonance to seemingly incongruous information; we must question and apply rigorous challenge to that information; and based on our assessment of the factual accuracy, logic, and morality of the information we must reach our own conclusions. Avoid the allure of unquestioningly accepting the words of authority! Regardless of personage, open-minded skepticism is the key to developing our own ability to cut through disinformation and thwart the insidious acts propaganda is intended to disguise.
Critical and moral thinking is crucial to the revolution for a free and socially just world.
- As the whistleblowing former FBI contractor Sibel Edmonds, among others, has pointed out DN receives large foundation grants:Serious questions have arisen about how Democracy Now!, begun and developed with the resources of Pacifica Radio and grants from the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation, the J.M. Kaplan Fund and others, suddenly became independent and the effective property of Amy Goodman without recompense to Pacifica. This transferapparently included valuable assets such as trademarks, ownership of years of archived programs, affiliate station access, and more. In a contract that remains secret, Amy Goodman is also receiving $1 million per year for a five-year period that began in 2002, according to Pacifica Treasurer Jabari Zakiya, to continue doing what has become Pacifica’s flagship morning news program. This is more than double Goodman’s officially stated stipend of $440,000 per year from Pacifica Radio. Democracy Now! receives indirect funding from George Soros, and direct funding from the Ford Foundation, the Glaser Foundation, Soros’ Open Society Institute… [Emphasis in original]
- See Noam Chomsky, On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures (South End Press, 1987.)
- Colleague BJ Sabri and I concluded in part 6 — “A Russian White Knight or an Interventionist Power?” — of our 7-part series on “The Imperialist Violence in Syria”:
“Russia, although it entered the war on the side of the legitimate government, Russia has never declared any strategy or long-term objective in Syria except the one supporting a legitimate U.N. member from not being overrun by American/Saudi-supported terrorists and mercenaries.”
My days of hoping for the best from Donald Trump – and at least appreciating the fact that he was not the neocon/liberal hawk that Hillary Clinton is – are over along with my hopes that he might implement his campaign promise and take U.S. foreign policy in a more positive, less warlike, direction.
From being possibly part of the solution, President Trump has become an integral part of the problem. And with his bigger-than-life ego, petulance and stubbornness, Commander-in-Chief Trump is potentially a greater threat to world peace than his weak-willed predecessor Barack Obama.
This week, Trump ignored Russian calls for an investigation into Tuesday’s alleged chemical gas attack in Idlib province before issuing hasty conclusions on culpability. Instead he accepted a narrative of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s guilt despite indications that the incident may have been either an accident (the release of poison gas at a damaged rebel warehouse) or a false-flag operation designed by Al Qaeda-affiliated rebels in Syria.
The Assad-did-it storyline was disseminated by the White Helmets and other phony NGOs that are financed by Washington and London, and that narrative was accepted by the White House. Without waiting for any comprehensive review, Trump ordered the firing of 50 or more Tomahawk missiles against a Syrian military air base in Homs province, thereby crossing all Russian “red lines” in Syria.
Until this point, the Kremlin had chosen not to react to signs coming from Washington that Trump’s determination to change course on Russia and U.S. global hegemony was failing. The wait-and-see posture antedated Trump’s accession to power when Russian President Vladimir Putin overruled the dictates of protocol and did not respond to Obama’s final salvo, the seizure of Russian diplomatic property in the U.S. and the eviction of Russian diplomats.
The Russians also looked the other way when the new administration continued the same neocon rhetoric from the tribune of the United Nations Security Council and during trips to Europe by Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson.
But the missile attack in Syria is a game-changer. The pressure on Putin to respond in some serious way will be immense. Putin has a cool mind and we may anticipate that the Russian response will come at a time of his choosing and in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the U.S. offense. Look for a response by the end of the month.
In the meantime, we who have been hoping for a change of direction — for the rooting out of the neocons and liberal hawks at the heart of the Deep State — should recognize the dangers and the challenges ahead. One way or another, the White House must be told that arranging foreign policy moves out of purely domestic calculations, such as likely happened on Thursday, puts the nation’s very existence at risk.
Acting tough by striking out at Russia and its allies is not the way to form a coalition to pass a Republican tax bill or revive the repeal plans on Obamacare or divert attention from the Democrats’ obsessive investigations into Russia-gate. The same may be said of an alternative reading of the missile attack: that it was intended as a message to visiting Chinese President Xi that should there be no joint action to restrain North Korea, the United States will act alone and with total disregard for international law.
Either logic in the end is a formula for global suicide.
Gilbert Doctorow is a Brussels-based political analyst. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future? was published in August 2015. © Gilbert Doctorow, 2017
How quickly enemies can become friends. All you have to do is bomb people.
Q1: What happened?
Last night, and much to chagrin of people who thought Trump would not escalate matters in Syria, the US military launched 59 Tomahawk missiles into Syria, allegedly attempting to destroy a government airbase. They warned the Russian government before-hand, who will have passed on that warning to the Syrians, meaning the area was probably on alert, with any important equipment or personnel removed. The Pentagon have also stated that, at this time, there are no plans for any other strikes or any campaign in Syria.
Q2: Supposing the attack definitely happened as most are reporting – and that is a dangerous assumption to make these days – what have the results been?
At last count the number of Syrian casualties stood at 6 dead servicemen, and 9 dead civilians (including four children) and several more wounded, together with the loss of six aircraft. The airbase they attacked looks far from destroyed in footage from Russia 24 (see here). And chemical weapons? Well, they didn’t destroy any…and say they weren’t trying to do so (see our brief story on that contradiction here). So in terms of military targets, this strike has achieved very little.
The attack was pitifully inefficient, of the 50-70 missiles launched, only 23 struck anywhere near their targets. The other 30+ are currently unaccounted for. Tomahawk missiles cost between $500,000 and $1,500,000 dollar each, which means the US just spent between 25 and 105 MILLION dollars on dinging up a couple of aircraft hangars and murdering less than 20 people.
Q3: …then why do it?
There must be some political wins in this situation to justify the price tag, because the damage done to the “enemy” is practically zero. Indeed, when you take into account that the Pentagon informed the Russians, who will have informed the Syrians, and the reports of Syria evacuating personnel before the attack… the entire event appears somewhat theatrical. Meaning it was an entirely political act, possibly intended more for a domestic audience than anything else.
It had no bearing on the civil war at all, the airstrikes on rebel positions weren’t even halted for a day.
Q4: Was it legal?
Whether it was the product of an impotent emotional tantrum, or a cynical public relations gambit, there is no question the attack was completely illegal under international law. But the American press have never cared much about that. Given that America’s reputation was already in tatters, among those who consider such trifles important, this won’t do much damage. They will take a hit on that front, it probably won’t matter in the long-run.
The list of unpunished American international crimes is hugely long. This small addition barely qualifies.
Q5: cui bono?
Always the most important question.
Trump can definitely get some short-term political gains domestically here. Having “defied” the Russians and “stood-up to” Assad, Trump can now enjoy a period of respite from the “Trump is in Russia’s pocket” talk. Plus, the wider establishment – so fond of calling for “action on Syria” – will be forced to either agree with (and consequently legitimize) the administration, or criticise an attack on Syria and dial back their own calls for war.
What Trump gains in terms of favour within the deep-state and political establishment he will lose in terms of approval with his voting base. One of the biggest issues contributing to Trumps electoral victory was his non-interventionist stance on the ME. This may only be a superficial event, but the list of people approving of and/or celebrating it is enough to alienate a lot of Trump voters for good. But he doesn’t have to worry about that for the next four years.
One definite winner in all of this is Turkey, so long illegally picking at land along the Syrian border. They now have a precedent for a NATO ally taking unilateral action against the Syrian government on very flimsy evidence. They will take that and run with it. Israel, similarly, will see this as permission to be even more active in Syria. Both are key suppliers to the rebels, both are carving out chunks of Syria for themselves.
A danger does still lurk, of course. Whether Trump took this action to make a point, or was talked into it by generals and the like, the first official American attack on Syria has now taken place. Mission creep, intended from the outset or no, is an important thing to keep an eye on at this point.
Without any recourse to international law or the United Nations, the Trump administration has embarked on an act of international aggression against yet another sovereign state in the Middle East, confirming that neocons have reasserted their dominance over US foreign policy in Washington.
It is an act of aggression that ends any prospect of détente between Washington and Moscow in the foreseeable future, considerably increasing tensions between Russia and the US not only in the Middle East but also in Eastern Europe, where NATO troops have been conducting military exercises for some time in striking distance of Russian territory.
In the wake of the horrific images that emerged from Idlib after the alleged sarin gas attack, the clamor for regime change in Damascus has reached a crescendo in the West, with politicians and media outlets rushing to judgement in ascribing responsibility for the attack to the Syrian government. No one knows with any certainty what happened in Idlib, which is why an independent investigation should have been agreed and undertaken in pursuit of the truth and, with it, justice.
However only the most naïve among us could believe that this US airstrike against Syria was unleashed with justice in mind. How could it be when US bombs have been killing civilians, including children, in Mosul recently? And how could it be given the ineffable suffering of Yemeni children as a result of Saudi Arabia’s brutal military campaign there?
No, this US attack, reportedly involving 59 Tomahawk missiles being launched from ships in the eastern Mediterranean, was carried out with regime change in mind, setting a precedent that can only have serious ramifications for the entire region.
Regarding the attack in Idlib, what we can say with certainty is that a time when pro-government forces in Syria were in the ascendancy on the ground, and when the Syrian government was making significant progress on the diplomatic front, it would have constituted an act of ineffable self-harm to launch a chemical weapons attack of any kind, much less one of this magnitude. In fact it would have conformed to the actions of a government that was intent on bringing about its own demise. What also must be taken into consideration is the fact that the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), an organization supported by the US, confirmed back in June 2014 that the process to destroy Syria’s entire stock of chemical weapons had been completed.
Moreover, the horrific images and eyewitness testimony that have emanated from Idlib in the wake of the attack have come from pro-opposition sources. No Western journalist or news crew would dare set foot in Idlib, or indeed any other part of opposition-held territory in Syria, knowing that as soon as they did they would be abducted and slaughtered.
Trump has proved with this unilateral military intervention that he can easily be dragged into conflict. Just a few days after his administration confirmed that regime change in Syria was off the table, that its focus was on defeating terrorism, he unleashes an airstrike that will only have emboldened the very forces of terrorism whose defeat he had stressed was the focus of his foreign policy previously.
So what now? Clearly, this military action places Russia in a very difficult position. Since joining the conflict in Syria at the end of September 2015, at the behest of the country’s government, Moscow had been working tirelessly to bring about a negotiated settlement, one involving opposition forces and parties deemed moderate relative to the Salafi-jihadi fanatics of ISIS and Nusra, etc. It is a diplomatic process that has just been dealt a shattering blow, with the opposition now undoubtedly convinced that regime change is in the offing via Washington and therefore encouraged to work towards this end.
Meanwhile, as for Washington’s regional allies – Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey (with Erdogan guaranteed to hitch his wagon to whoever appears to be in the driving seat) – they will most likely begin calling for more military action against Damascus now, viewing the US airstrike as the catalyst for open season on the country’s sovereignty.
As for Trump himself, having been under inordinate pressure since assuming office in January from the Washington media, political, and intelligence establishment, this action will earn him some much needed approval and, with it, respite. The signs with regard to his administration had been ominous for some time, starting with the forced resignation of Mike Flynn as his National Security Adviser in February, and continuing recent departure of Steve Bannon from the President’s National Security Council. It comes as further evidence that neocons have reasserted their dominance over the White House after a short and intense power struggle.
On a wider note, the lack of short-term memory in Washington is staggering to behold. Fourteen years after the disastrous US invasion of Iraq, which only succeeded in opening the gates of hell out of which ISIS and other Salfi-jihadi groups emerged, and six years after turning Libya into a failed state, in the process sparking a refugees crisis of biblical proportions, here we have yet another act of aggression against a sovereign state in the Middle East by the US.
Destroying countries in order to save them is the story of every empire there has been. But as history reveals, every empire carries within itself the seeds of its own destruction. Donald Trump is now on course to end up going down in history as a leader who rather than save the US from itself, may only have helped speed it down the path to its ultimate demise.
British politician Nigel Farage, who Donald Trump has once said would be great as the UK’s ambassador to Washington, has criticized the US president for ordering a military strike against government targets in Syria, and called on London not to follow Americans into another military intervention in the Middle East.
In an interview on Friday, Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Brexit campaigner, said he was very surprised by the attack. “I am very surprised by this.”
“I think a lot of Trump voters will be waking up this morning and scratching their heads and saying ‘where will it all end?’” he said.
“As a firm Trump supporter, I say, yes, the pictures were horrible, but I’m surprised. Whatever Assad’s sins, he is secular,” added Farage, member of the European Parliament.
The US military fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at the al-Shayrat airbase in Homs province in western Syrian early Friday.
The missiles were launched from the destroyers USS Porter and USS Ross in the eastern Mediterranean. The strike killed nine civilians, including four children on Friday, according to Syria’s state news agency SANA.
Farage warned Prime Minister Theresa May against following Washington into another war in the Middle East.
“Previous interventions in the Middle East have made things worse rather than better,” the anti-interventionist politician stated.
British Prime Minister Theresa May
In a statement issued earlier in the day, the British government said it “fully supports” the US missile strike against a Syrian army airbase.
The show of support was a departure from a warning the day before by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson after Trump raised the specter of unilateral action.
Johnson warned against rushing into a war with the Syrian government, and said the top priority should be peace talks and passing a United Nations resolution to investigate the April 4 chemical attack.
“It is very important to try first to get out a UN resolution,” the foreign secretary insisted.
HOMS – The US missile strike on Syria’s Sha’irat airbase killed four children, an informed source in Homs told Sputnik Friday.
On Thursday night, the United States launched 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, located about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the city of Homs. US President Donald Trump said the attack was a response to the alleged chemical weapon use in Syria’s Idlib on Tuesday, which Washington blames on the Syrian government.
“According to our information, among the killed civilians there are four children. They are from ordinary families living near the airbase. There is nothing more to say,” the source said.
Earlier, conflicting reports on the number of casualties as a result of the attack emerged. The Homs governor said five were killed and seven injured.The Russian Defense Ministry said Syria is currently investigating the number of casualties.
The Russian Foreign Minister said no Russian servicemen died as a result of the attack.
Following the US military action, Russia decided to suspend its memorandum of understanding on air safety over Syria with the United States, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.
The push for “action” following the alleged chemical attack in Idlib, Syria is reaching fever pitch. Indeed, it may already have had disastrous consequences. The spokespeople for power that are the Western press consider the case against the Assad regime air-tight. Absent any forensic, or even circumstantial, evidence the mainstream media have resorted to simple arguments from authority looks of bewilderment.
The trouble is “authority” doesn’t seem have any cohesion in this matter – so the press have carefully chosen who they will listen to… and who they will remove from their websites.
Col. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon is the favored voice of “reason” on these matters, he has dismissed any idea other than a deliberate attack by the Syrian government as “fanciful”. And has been cited everywhere from Channel 4, to the Daily Mail to the Guardian, to the BBC. He is universally credited as a “chemical weapons expert” who works as the director of “Medics Under Fire”…. but that’s not his only job, just his most recent.
He was originally in the British army, filling an important role at NATO:
Previously Commanding Officer of the UK CBRN Regiment and NATO’s Rapid Reaction CBRN Battalion, Hamish is one of the most operationally experienced CBRN practitioners in the World and is regarded as one of the leading experts in Chemical and Biological Counter Terrorism and warfare.
With other hints from his biography suggesting some work in espionage or military intelligence:
He has also worked with US networks and British newspapers to smuggle chemical samples out of Syria for verification in UK and France.
… so he’s hardly an objective source.
Of course, “Medics Under Fire” is nothing like what it appears to be, either. Its name conjures up imagery of global charities, along the lines of Medecins sans Frontieres. It is nothing like that, in truth it is a Western-backed NGO working out of Syria, very much like the White Helmets. In fact, their websites are almost completely identical.
On the other side of this narrow divide is Jerry Smith, a chemical weapons expert who took part in the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks in 2013. He is hardly a frothing pro-Assad alternative voice, but he takes a measured approach. He wrote in the Guardian :
Russia’s claim that the latest poisoning is a result of a conventional attack on an opposition arms storage facility should not be dismissed out of hand. While it is true that nerve agent can be destroyed by explosion, it is perfectly possible that some agent could survive and be ejected out as a result of an explosion.
… but obviously nobody there was listening, because “dismissing it out of hand” is exactly what they have done.
Mr Smith was also interviewed on Channel 4 news (curiously absent from their online archive), and ABC news in Australia, both times saying very similar things.
The BBC referenced and quoted his Channel 4 interview in their article on the attack, this quote was included in an article headlined Syria chemical ‘attack’: Trump condemns ‘affront to humanity’:
… the official who led the UN-backed operation to remove Syria’s chemical weapons told the UK’s Channel 4 News that the Russian version of events could not be discounted.
“If it is Sarin that was stored there and conventional munitions were used, there is every possibility that some of those [chemical] munitions were not consumed and that the Sarin liquid was ejected and could well have affected the population,” Jerry Smith said.
This paragraph was completely removed just 35 minutes later. The current version of this article makes no mention of Mr Smith at all. No reason is given, and there is no note referencing that the article had been amended.
A reminder that these are standards deemed acceptable by the “news service” for which we are all forced, by law, to pay.
Our thanks to the media lens twitter for bringing this issue to our attention, and to newssniffer for the very important work they do.
Syria strongly condemned a US missile attack targeting an army airbase near Homs as an “act of aggression,” while the Zionist entity and Syrian armed opposition groups calling for further attacks.
The US military launched about 60 Tomahawk missiles against several targets on al-Shayrat air base 38 kilometers southeast of the city of Homs.
Homs Governor Talal Barazi said the US missile strikes serve the goals of armed terrorist groups and ISIL, adding that the aggression will not prevent the Syrian government from “fighting terrorism.”
Iran strongly condemned the US attack. In a Friday statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tehran “roundly condemns any unilateral military action and the missile attacks against al-Shayrat Airbase in Syria by American warships.”
“Iran strongly condemns any such unilateral strikes… Such measures will strengthen terrorists in Syria … and will complicate the situation in Syria and the region,” ISNA quoted Bahram Qasemi as saying.
Bolivia requested a closed-door UN Security Council to be held on Friday. Russia also said it will call the 15-nation body into session.
A source in the Greek Ministry of National Defence said that Greece is strongly against any military intervention in Syria as it could hamper peace efforts. “Greece is strongly against any military intervention in Syria,” a National Defense Ministry source told Sputnik, adding that such action will hamper dialogue and peace in Syria.
Indonesia said it was concerned with unilateral actions “by any parties, including the use of Tomahawk missiles,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Armanatha Nasir said in a text message. “Military actions, undertaken without prior authorization of the UN Security Council, are not in line with international legal principles in the peaceful settlement of disputes, as stipulated in the UN Charter.”
The government of Japan is calling a UN Security Council emergency meeting in the wake of the US missile strike, media reported citing a government source. According to the Kyodo news agency, earlier in the day, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said that Tokyo was checking the information about the US strike, and that Japan would express its position after it obtained all the information.
Armed Opposition’s Position Intersects with the Zionist One Again
The foreign-backed National Coalition armed opposition group welcomed the US missile strikes and hoped they will continue in order to ‘stop Syrian government bombardment’, an SNC media official said Friday.
“We hope for the continuation of the strikes in order to prevent the regime from using its planes to launch any new air raids or going back to using internationally banned weapons,” said Ahmad Ramadan, head of the SNC’s media office.
Zionist Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office also celebrated the attack with an early morning statement, saying he supported “strong message” sent by US strikes.
Britain gave its backing, too. “The U.K. government fully supports the U.S. action which we believe was an appropriate response to the barbaric chemical weapons attack launched by the Syrian regime and is intended to deter further attacks,” a government spokesman said.
Australia’s Turnbull, in turn, said the strikes sent “a vitally important message” that the world will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons. “The retribution has been proportionate and it has been swift,” he told reporters in Sydney. “We support the United States in that swift action.”
A few hours before the attack, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said on Thursday Turkey would welcome a US military attack on Syria. Speaking live on nationwide Kanal 7 TV, he said Turkey was ready to do its part if such an onslaught took place.
The Pentagon said the Russians deployed to the targeted military facility were given prior notice, and that the missiles did not hit sections of the airbase where Moscow’s forces were reportedly present.
There has been no immediate reaction from Moscow, but Russia had warned on Thursday that there could be “negative consequences” if Washington takes military action against Syria.
“All responsibility if military action occurs will be on the shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful tragic enterprise,” Russian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Vladimir Safronkov said.
“Look at Iraq, look at Libya,” he said, referring to the countries which have been rocked by violence, terrorism and chaos since the West launched a military intervention.
Takfiri Daesh terrorists have launched a fresh push to retake Palmyra in Syria’s Homs Province shortly after the US launched a missile strike on an airfield used by the Syrian army to protect the ancient city.
According to the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen TV channel, Daesh terrorists took advantage of the US attack on Shayrat Airfield, located southeast of Homs city, on Friday and attacked Palmyra, killing four people.
Sources on the ground said the offensive was successfully repelled by the Syrian army.
Since 2014, when Daesh unleashed its campaign of terror in Syria, the group has seized Palmyra twice but the army liberated it once last year and the second time in March.
The US military fired some 60 cruise missiles at the army airbase, inflicting “big material damage” on the facility, which was used by the Syrian army to defend southern regions, including the cities of Palmyra, al-Qaryatayn and Mahin in Homs Province.
Foreign-backed terrorist groups welcomed the strike, but urged additional action, with one major faction saying a single strike was “not enough.”
“Hitting one airbase is not enough, there are 26 airbases that target civilians,” a key figure in the Jaysh al-Islam faction, Mohamed Alloush, said on his Twitter account.
Mohamed Bayrakdar, another leader of the terrorist group which operates mainly around the capital Damascus, described the strike as “a bold and correct step.”
Other Takfiri groups also called for continued military action against the Syrian government.
“In my opinion, the message is political, and the message has arrived to Russia and been understood,” Issam Raes, spokesman for the Southern Front terrorist faction, told AFP.
Colonel Ahmed Osman, of the Turkey-backed Sultan Murad militant group, said: “We welcome any action that will put an end to the regime that is committing the worst crimes in history.”
Reports say there were 40 hangers for Sukhoi and Mikoyan warplanes in the airfield, which Syria had recently received from Russia.
Given the strategic location of the airfield, Syria and Russia were recently considering plans to upgrade the airbase to deploy advanced aircraft and Russia’s S-400 air defense systems at Shayrat.
Later on Friday, the Kremlin cited Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying that the US missile attack on the Syrian airbase has violated international law and significantly harmed Russia-US relations.
The US launched the military strike on Shayrat airfield in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib Province earlier this week.
Syria has categorically denied carrying out a chemical attack. Russia has also said the deaths in Idlib were caused when a Syrian airstrike struck a terrorist warehouse used for making bombs with toxic substances.
The Pentagon said the Russians deployed to the targeted military facility were given prior notice, and that attack did not hit sections of the airbase where Moscow’s forces were reportedly present.
According to al-Mayadeen, the Syrian army had evacuated most of its warplanes from Shayrat airfield before the US attack.
Washington’s assault was met with strong condemnations from Russia, Syria and Iran.
The foreign-backed National Coalition, an alliance of terrorist groups, however said it “welcomes the strike” and urged Washington to neutralize Syria’s ability to carry out air raids.
Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, along with their Western allies, joined the militants and voiced support for the militants.
The United States has launched on Friday morning dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria in response to this week’s alleged chemical attack that it has blamed on the Syrian government, the pentagon announced.
The US military launched about 60 Tomahawk missiles against several targets on al-Shayrat air base 38 kilometers southeast of the city of Homs. They were reportedly fired from the USS Ross and USS Porter, Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
The strikes targeted aircraft and infrastructure, including the runway, but not people, US officials told NBC. But a Syrian military source was quoted by state TV as saying that the US missile strike has “led to losses.”
Syrian military personnel, as well as equipment, were evacuated from the airfield in prior to the late Thursday US missile attack, media report. The missile strike damaged runways, towers and traffic control buildings at the airbase, but personnel had been evacuated and equipment was moved ahead of the strike, ABC said on Friday citing eyewitness reports.
Governor of Homs Province Talal al-Barazi said that the Shayrat Airfield plays a key role in supporting Syrian government forces in their fight against ISIL terrorists.
“The Syrian army and armed forces are fighting terrorism, especially in the east of Homs. And recently significant progress has been reached, gas fields have been liberated as well as the city of Palmyra and its surroundings. This base to the east of Homs plays a key role in supporting military operations against ISIL, particularly in the eastern part of Homs,” al-Barazi said in a phone interview.
“Tonight, I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched,” US President Donald Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. “It is in this vital national security interest of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons,” Trump said.
“There can be no dispute that Syria used banned chemical weapons,” he stated without providing a shred of evidence to back his claim.
The allegations of chemical arms use are still made against Syria even as the dismantling of the country’s entire stockpile of chemical weapons as well as relevant production facilities was supervised by the UN.
Foreign-backed militants have repeatedly used chemical weapons against Syrian troops, some of which have been verified by UN officials, but the attacks have often been ignored by Western governments.
US Congressman Tulsi Gabbard said that Trump’s decision to conduct the missile strike against a Syrian airfield was a mistake that will escalate tensions with Russia and lead to more civilian casualties. “This escalation is short-sighted and will lead to more dead civilians, more refugees, the strengthening of al-Qaeda and other terrorists, and a direct confrontation between the United States and Russia — which could lead to nuclear war,” Gabbard stressed.
Russia will demand urgent UN Security Council meeting after US missile strike at an airbase in Syria, Victor Ozerov, the chairman of the Russian Federation Council’s Committee on Defense and Security, told Sputnik.
“Russia will first of all demand an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council. This can be regarded as an act of aggression on the part of the US against a UN state,” Ozerov said.
“After this incident the already clouded relations with the US will somewhat worsen,” Ozerov told Sputnik, adding that the missile attack will likely be “a very bad example for the armed opposition in Syria, which could put under question the agreements reached with the opposition, including in Geneva.”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement after the US attack that there were no discussions or prior contacts between the United States and Moscow ahead of the missile strike on the Syrian base.