If you were concerned that the Syria WMD stories didn’t already feel enough like the Iraq WMD reports, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius had one just for you (12/19/12). Ignatius reports that according to a Syrian defector, the Assad government’s chemical weapons are indeed on the move. Ignatius tells readers that, according to his source,
technicians constructed a mobile lab that could combine and activate so-called “binary” chemical weapons agents. These mobile mixers were constructed inside Mercedes or Volvo trucks that appeared, from the outside, to be similar to refrigerator trucks. Inside were storage tanks, pipes and a motor to drive the mixing machinery, the defector said.
The defector estimated that 10 to 15 of these mobile laboratories had been constructed. An independent source said these numbers were high, but he confirmed that the Syrians do have mobile labs.
Now it’s not that Ignatius doesn’t know that this story sounds, well, familiar. He places that giant caveat right near the beginning of his piece:
For some historical context, readers should recall the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who made allegations about Iraqi chemical weapons a decade ago that bolstered the case for war–but turned out to be fabrications.
So there’s reason to be skeptical. But evidently not too skeptical. Ignatius goes on:
Seeking corroboration for the Syrian report, I checked it with knowledgeable, independent sources, who confirmed some of the details. With that support, I want to share it with readers.
Ignatius has confidence in at least some of this story, as evinced by his lead:
Reports from inside two Syrian chemical weapons facilities offer chilling new evidence that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime developed special vehicles last year for moving and mixing the weapons–and an unconfirmed allegation that Lebanese allies of the regime, presumably in Hezbollah, may have been trained 11 months ago in the weapons’ use.
What he’s saying, in other words, is that the mobile labs exist; the more frightening allegation–that the labs might be headed to Lebanon for use by Hezbollah–is “unconfirmed.” How solid is the sourcing? He writes:
A Syrian source provided a detailed account in a telephone conversation over the weekend, drawing on intelligence provided to him by a Syrian defector who worked inside the chemical weapons network.
So we have what would appear to be a secondhand account, delivered by phone, thanks to arrangements made by a Syrian opposition group. And how do we know the weapons were headed for Hezbollah? Ignatius tells us that his source says, “The officers placed the chemicals in a civilian vehicle and were seen driving across a bridge in the direction of the highway toward Lebanon.”
What does all of this mean? That’s impossible to say–though the idea that mobile chemical weapons labs were put together last year, after the revolt started, in order to coordinate transfer of the weapons to Hezbollah is, on its face, a little far-fetched.
Ignatius gives the Iraq stories all but one paragraph, but it’s important to recall more of the journalism from that period. As Seth Ackerman wrote in Extra! (7-8/03), one of the most embarrassing–and largely forgotten–episodes of the Iraq War came when NBC breathlessly reported the discovery of Iraq’s feared mobile bio-weapons labs:
On May 12, NBC News correspondent Jim Avila, reporting from Baghdad, declared that the labs “may be the most significant WMD findings of the war.” Joining him was hawkish former U.N. nuclear inspector David Kay (now an “NBC News analyst”), who was flown to Iraq to perform an impromptu inspection for the cameras. Armed with a pointer, he rattled off the trailer ‘s parts: “This is a compressor. You want to keep the fermentation process under pressure so it goes faster. This vessel is the fermenter….”
Kay’s explanation–”think of it as sort of the chicken soup for biological weapons. You mixed it with the seed stock, which came from this gravity flow tank up here into the fermenter. And under pressure with heat, it fermented”–was convincing enough for television news. Kay stated: “Literally, there’s nothing else you would do this way on a mobile facility. It is it.”
Well, except for one problem: What they found was actually equipment to make hydrogen for weather balloons. But what they were looking for was what defectors told various officials they would find–and part of what Colin Powell told the world about Iraq’s WMD program on February 5, 2003. The old saying that when you have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail comes to mind.
Is “intelligence” on Syria any better? It’s unclear why we should think so. But for columnists like Ignatius, what someone told him on the phone based on what someone else may have seen is apparently good enough. And maybe it doesn’t really matter. As Ignatius once explained (Washington Post, 4/25/03):
Personally, I don’t much care if the U.S. reports about weapons of mass destruction prove to be imaginary. Toppling Hussein’s regime was still right.
Does he care this time whether or not the WMD stories he’s reporting as fact are imaginary or not? Or would toppling Assad’s regime be right no matter what?
- Obama’s War on Syria and its Implications (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In the latest example of mainstream media warmongering, in today’s Washington Post David Ignatius writes,
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has a lot on his mind these days, from cutting the defense budget to managing the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But his biggest worry is the growing possibility that Israel will attack Iran over the next few months.
Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June — before Iran enters what Israelis described as a “zone of immunity” to commence building a nuclear bomb. Very soon, the Israelis fear, the Iranians will have stored enough enriched uranium in deep underground facilities to make a weapon — and only the United States could then stop them militarily.
When reading reports like the one Ignatius has filed here, it should always be remembered that what is being so nonchalantly discussed as a point of perturbation for a beleaguered Leon Panetta is, without doubt, the willful and active commission of a war crime. Not only that, but – in the words of the Nuremberg Tribunal – initiating a war of aggression, as Israel would undoubtedly be doing by unilaterally and illegally bombing Iran, is “the supreme international crime.”
Ignatius, despite his clear intent of beating war drums under the guise of disinterested journalism, acknowledges repeatedly that Iran is not building nuclear weapons and has no nuclear weapons program. While the bogus Israeli claim of Iran reaching a “zone of immunity” (the new Barakian term for what until recently was ominously called the “point of no return“) is noted by Ignatius, it’s followed by the claim that this spooky “zone” would enable Iran to “commence building a nuclear bomb.” Which means it’s not currently doing that. Ignatius even reiterates the fact that – per U.S. (and Israeli and IAEA) intelligence – Iran is not building a bomb. Which means this is all speculative. Which means any potential attack would be “preventative” and not based on any immediate threat. Which means it would be totally illegal under any possible reading of international law.
Ignatius writes that “Netanyahu doesn’t want to leave the fate of Israel dependent on American action.” There’s that “existential threat” again! Y’know, the one that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Ephraim Halevy, current Mossad chief Tamir Pardo say doesn’t actually exist. Just today, Ynet reported that former IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz also repeated the assessment that Iran poses no such threat to Israel. “The use of this terminology is misleading. If it is intended to encourage a strike on Iran, it’s a mistake,” he said.
Nevertheless, Ignatius repeats this absurdity as if it’s an uncontroversial fact. It appears that, for Beltway reportage, “If Netanyahu says it, it must be true!”
Ignatius goes on, “Administration officials caution that Tehran shouldn’t misunderstand: The United States has a 60-year commitment to Israeli security, and if Israel’s population centers were hit, the United States could feel obligated to come to Israel’s defense.”
Does that refer to an aggressive, first-strike on Israel by Iran? If so, this is a fabricated premise that no one actually considers to be a danger (Iran’s “defensive military doctrine” is well-documented and consistently reaffirmed by U.S. intelligence) and is an action Iran has repeatedly said it would never commit. Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s head of state and commander-in-chief, has stated unequivocally that “the Islamic Republic has never threatened and will never threaten any country.” Meanwhile, just the mere threat of military attack by Israel is a clear violation of Article 2 of the UN Charter.
So, essentially, Ignatius is crafting a strawman in order to beat the American warrior chest much like Hillary Clinton did in 2008 when she declared that, if Iran attacked Israel and she were president, she would order the U.S. military to “totally obliterate” Iran. How’s that for a genocidal, “wipe off the map” fantasy?
Ignatius also suggests there are currently only two ways out of the current crisis: Iran could “finally open serious negotiations for a formula to verifiably guarantee that its nuclear program will remain a civilian one; or the United States could step up its covert actions.”
Anyone familiar with the 2007 Work Plan that Iran and the IAEA agreed to, knows that this has already happened and that the IAEA consistently confirms that Iran’s nuclear program is not militarized. The “verifiable guarantee” is the presence of IAEA cameras and inspectors at Iran’s safeguarded facilities. What would make Iran’s program even more “verifiably” civilian in nature would be for the international community – including the U.S. – to accept Iran’s numerous offers to invest in and partner with its program, thereby making it virtually impossible for Iran to weaponize. These overtures have been consistently rebuffed or ignored.
The other option, of course, is more “covert actions” – in other words: drone surveillance and industrial sabotage. Those pesky little murders and explosions that leave widows and orphans and which, in any other context – if any other country’s citizens were the victims of such summary executions – would be unconditionally and unequivocally condemned as terrorism.
Sure, Ignatius ends with the off-hand comment that Netanyahu is vacillating and that “top Israeli intelligence officials remain skeptical of the project” – the “project” of course being shorthand for an act of aggressive war (again, “the supreme international crime”).
Concluding with requisite Beltway fear-mongering, Ignatius warns that “senior Americans doubt that the Israelis are bluffing” and are “worrying about the guns of spring — and the unintended consequences.”
At this point, with three decades of war threats, devastating sanctions that amount to the collective punishment of the Iranian people for the crime of overthrowing the Shah, and propaganda about Iran’s ever-imminent hell-bending drive for atomic weaponry with which to evaporate poor little (nuclear-armed and super-power funded) Israel, how can any of the “consequences” honestly be referred to as “unintended”?
I suppose it would be lovely for Israel (and its many cheerleaders here in Congress and the media) if it were able to bomb whomever they want whenever they want, killing thousands upon thousands, with impunity and without any repercussions – that’s what it’s been doing in Gaza and Lebanon for years. But Iran is not ghettoized and occupied, demilitarized and defenseless, blockaded and besieged. Iran, unlike the usual victims of Israeli and American bullets and bombs, can actually fight back if it’s attacked.
That’s what frustrates warmongers from Foggy Bottom to Herzliya so much.