By Firas Samuri | Inside Syria Media Center | April 27, 2017
According to Reuters, this morning Israeli jets carried out five strikes on depots belonging to Hezbollah close to Damascus International Airport. After the explosion, a fire broke out.
It should be mentioned, that it is not the first time that Israel has launched airstrikes on Syria. On April 21, Israeli aviation targeted Syrian Army positions in the area of Khan Arnabeh in the province of Quneitra. This attack was committed when the government forces were repulsing a large-scale militant offensive.
Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz has already commented on this airstrike, stating that it corresponds completely with Israel’s policy to act to prevent Iran’s smuggling of advanced weapons via Syria to Hezbollah in Iran.
Under the pretext of fighting the Lebanese Islamist militant group, Israel supports Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Moreover, according to Yournewswire.com, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman stated that ISIS doesn’t pose any risk for Israel’s security.
In addition, the Defense Minister accused Bashar Assad of using chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun.
Israel also supported the recent U.S. missile strike on Al-Shayrat air base in Homs and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called on other states to follow the U.S. example.
Apparently, Israel seems to be justifying the U.S. and its own illegal interventions in Syria, which are not aimed at fighting terrorism. Furthermore, the Israeli official discredits and demonizes Assad’s policy, without weighty arguments. Such Israeli actions also reduce the effectiveness of the government troops in the fight against terrorism.
It’s obvious that the current Israeli authorities have chosen the escalation of the Syrian conflict instead of political settlement. Sending new jets to bomb Syria, Israel negates diplomatic initiatives that advocate for the rights of Syrians in Astana and Geneva.
The Israeli attack on Syria has already caused vehement reactions in the international community. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang stated that China opposes the use of military force. He also urged the world community to respect the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Syria.
Two dozen former U.S. intelligence professionals are urging the American people to demand clear evidence that the Syrian government was behind the April 4 chemical incident before President Trump dives deeper into another war.
AN OPEN MEMORANDUM FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE
From: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)
Subject: Mattis ‘No Doubt’ Stance on Alleged Syrian CW Smacks of Politicized Intelligence
Donald Trump’s new Secretary of Defense, retired Marine General James “Mad Dog” Mattis, during a recent trip to Israel, commented on the issue of Syria’s retention and use of chemical weapons in violation of its obligations to dispose of the totality of its declared chemical weapons capability in accordance with the provisions of both the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“There can be no doubt,” Secretary Mattis said during a April 21, 2017 joint news conference with his Israeli counterpart, Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman, “in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all.” To the contrary, Mattis noted, “I can say authoritatively they have retained some.”
Lieberman joined Mattis in his assessment, noting that Israel had “100 percent information that [the] Assad regime used chemical weapons against [Syrian] rebels.”
Both Mattis and Lieberman seemed to be channeling assessments offered to reporters two days prior, on April 19, 2017, by anonymous Israeli defense officials that the April 4, 2017 chemical weapons attack on the Syrian village of Khan Shaykhun was ordered by Syrian military commanders, with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s personal knowledge, and that Syria retained a stock of “between one and three tons” of chemical weapons.
The Israeli intelligence followed on the heels of an April 13, 2017 speech given by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that, once information had come in about a chemical attack on Khan Shaykhun, the CIA had been able to “develop several hypothesis around that, and then to begin to develop fact patterns which either supported or suggested that the hypothesis wasn’t right.” The CIA, Pompeo said, was “in relatively short order able to deliver to [President Trump] a high-confidence assessment that, in fact, it was the Syrian regime that had launched chemical strikes against its own people in [Khan Shaykhun.]”
The speed in which this assessment was made is of some concern. Both Director Pompeo, during his CSIS remarks, and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, during comments to the press on April 6, 2017, note that President Trump turned to the intelligence community early on in the crisis to understand better “the circumstances of the attack and who was responsible.” McMaster indicated that the U.S. Intelligence Community, working with allied partners, was able to determine with “a very high degree of confidence” where the attack originated.
Both McMaster and Pompeo spoke of the importance of open source imagery in confirming that a chemical attack had taken place, along with evidence collected from the victims themselves – presumably blood samples – that confirmed the type of agent that was used in the attack. This initial assessment drove the decision to use military force – McMaster goes on to discuss a series of National Security Council meetings where military options were discussed and decided upon; the discussion about the intelligence underpinning the decision to strike Syria was over.
The danger of this rush toward an intelligence decision by Director Pompeo and National Security Advisor McMaster is that once the President and his top national security advisors have endorsed an intelligence-based conclusion, and authorized military action based upon that conclusion, it becomes virtually impossible for that conclusion to change. Intelligence assessments from that point forward will embrace facts that sustain this conclusion, and reject those that don’t; it is the definition of politicized intelligence, even if those involved disagree.
A similar “no doubt” moment had occurred nearly 15 years ago when, in August 2002, Vice President Cheney delivered a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Cheney declared. “There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.” The message Cheney was sending to the Intelligence Community was clear: Saddam Hussein had WMD; there was no need to answer that question anymore.
The CIA vehemently denies that either Vice President Cheney or anyone at the White House put pressure on its analysts to alter their assessments. This may very well be true, but if it is, then the record of certainty – and arrogance – that existed in the mindset of senior intelligence managers and analysts only further erodes public confidence in the assessments produced by the CIA, especially when, as is the case with Iraq and Weapons of Mass Destruction – the agency was found so lacking. Stuart Cohen, a veteran CIA intelligence analyst who served as the acting Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, oversaw the production of the 2002 Iraq National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that was used to make case for Iraq possessing WMD that was used to justify war.
According to Mr. Cohen, he had four National Intelligence Officers with “over 100 years’ collective work experience on weapons of mass destruction issues” backed up by hundreds of analysts with “thousands of man-years invested in studying these issues.”
On the basis of this commitment of talent alone, Mr. Cohen assessed that “no reasonable person could have viewed the totality of the information that the Intelligence Community had at its disposal … and reached any conclusion or alternative views that were profoundly different from those that we reached,” namely that – judged with high confidence – “Iraq had chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles with ranges in excess of the 150 kilometer limit imposed by the UN Security Council.”
Two facts emerge from this expression of intellectual hubris. First, the U.S. Intelligence Community was, in fact, wrong in its estimate on Iraq’s WMD capability, throwing into question the standards used to assign “high confidence” ratings to official assessments. Second, the “reasonable person” standard cited by Cohen must be reassessed, perhaps based upon a benchmark derived from a history of analytical accuracy rather than time spent behind a desk.
The major lesson learned here, however, is that the U.S. Intelligence Community, and in particular the CIA, more often than not hides behind self-generated platitudes (“high confidence”, “reasonable person”) to disguise a process of intelligence analysis that has long ago been subordinated to domestic politics.
It is important to point out the fact that Israel, too, was wrong about Iraq’s WMD. According to Shlomo Brom, a retired Israeli Intelligence Officer, Israeli intelligence seriously overplayed the threat posed by Iraqi WMD in the lead up to the 2003 Iraq War, including a 2002 briefing to NATO provided by Efraim Halevy, who at the time headed the Israeli Mossad, or intelligence service, that Israel had “clear indications” that Iraq had reconstituted its WMD programs after U.N. weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998.
The Israeli intelligence assessments on Iraq, Mr. Brom concluded, were most likely colored by political considerations, such as the desire for regime change in Iraq. In this light, neither the presence of Avigdor Leiberman, nor the anonymous background briefings provided by Israel about Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities, should be used to provide any credence to Secretary Mattis’s embrace of the “no doubt” standard when it comes to Syria’s alleged possession of chemical weapons.
The intelligence data that has been used to back up the allegations of Syrian chemical weapons use has been far from conclusive. Allusions to intercepted Syrian communications have been offered as “proof”, but the Iraq experience – in particular former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s unfortunate experience before the U.N. Security Council – show how easily such intelligence can be misunderstood and misused.
Inconsistencies in the publicly available imagery which the White House (and CIA) have so heavily relied upon have raised legitimate questions about the veracity of any conclusions drawn from these sources (and begs the question as to where the CIA’s own Open Source Intelligence Center was in this episode.) The blood samples used to back up claims of the presence of nerve agent among the victims was collected void of any verifiable chain of custody, making their sourcing impossible to verify, and as such invalidates any conclusions based upon their analysis.
In the end, the conclusions CIA Director Pompeo provided to the President was driven by a fundamental rethinking of the CIA’s analysts when it came to Syria and chemical weapons that took place in 2014. Initial CIA assessments in the aftermath of the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons seemed to support the Syrian government’s stance that it had declared the totality of its holding of chemical weapons, and had turned everything over to the OPCW for disposal. However, in 2014, OPCW inspectors had detected traces of Sarin and VX nerve agent precursors at sites where the Syrians had indicated no chemical weapons activity had taken place; other samples showed the presence of weaponized Sarin nerve agent.
The Syrian explanation that the samples detected were caused by cross-contamination brought on by the emergency evacuation of chemical precursors and equipment used to handle chemical weapons necessitated by the ongoing Civil War was not accepted by the inspectors, and this doubt made its way into the minds of the CIA analysts, who closely followed the work of the OPCW inspectors in Syria.
One would think that the CIA would operate using the adage of “once bitten, twice shy” when assessing inspector-driven doubt; U.N. inspectors in Iraq, driven by a combination of the positive sampling combined with unverifiable Iraqi explanations, created an atmosphere of doubt about the veracity of Iraqi declarations that all chemical weapons had been destroyed. The CIA embraced the U.N. inspectors’ conclusions, and discounted the Iraqi version of events; as it turned out, Iraq was telling the truth.
While the jury is still out about whether or not Syria is, like Iraq, telling the truth, or whether the suspicions of inspectors are well founded, one thing is clear: a reasonable person would do well to withhold final judgment until all the facts are in. (Note: The U.S. proclivity for endorsing the findings of U.N. inspectors appears not to include the Khan Shaykhun attack; while both Syria and Russia have asked the OPCW to conduct a thorough investigation of the April 4, 2017 incident, the OPCW has been blocked from doing so by the United States and its allies.)
CIA Director Pompeo’s job is not to make policy – the intelligence his agency provides simply informs policy. It is not known if the U.S. Intelligence Community will be producing a formal National Intelligence Estimate addressing the Syrian chemical weapons issue, although the fact that the United States has undertaken military action under the premise that these weapons exist more than underscores the need for such a document, especially in light of repeated threats made by the Trump administration that follow-on strikes might be necessary.
Making policy is, however, the job of Secretary of Defense Mattis. At the end of the day, Secretary of Defense Mattis will need to make his own mind up as to the veracity of any intelligence used to justify military action. Mattis’s new job requires that he does more than simply advise the President on military options; he needs to ensure that the employment of these options is justified by the facts.
In the case of Syria, the “no doubt” standard Mattis has employed does not meet the “reasonable man” standard. Given the consequences that are attached to his every word, Secretary Mattis would be well advised not to commit to a “no doubt” standard until there is, literally, no doubt.
For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity
William Binney, Technical Director, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)
Marshall Carter-Tripp, Foreign Service Officer (ret) and former Office Division Director in the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research
Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, NSA
Bogdan Dzakovic, Former Team Leader of Federal Air Marshals and Red Team, FAA Security, (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)
Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)
Larry C Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)
Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF (Ret.); ex-Master SERE Instructor for Strategic Reconnaissance Operations (NSA/DIA) and Special Mission Units (JSOC)
Brady Kiesling, former U.S. Foreign Service Officer, ret. (Associate VIPS)
Karen Kwiatkowski, former Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.), at Office of Secretary of Defense watching the manufacture of lies on Iraq, 2001-2003
Lisa Ling, TSgt USAF (ret.)
Linda Lewis, WMD preparedness policy analyst, USDA (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Near East, CIA and National Intelligence Council (ret.)
Torin Nelson, former Intelligence Officer/Interrogator (GG-12) HQ, Department of the Army
Todd E. Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)
Coleen Rowley, FBI Special Agent and former Minneapolis Division Legal Counsel (ret.)
Scott Ritter, former MAJ., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq
Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)
Kirk Wiebe, former Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA
Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary (associate VIPS)
Sarah G. Wilton, Intelligence Officer, DIA (ret.); Commander, US Naval Reserve (ret.)
Robert Wing, former Foreign Service Officer (associate VIPS)
A local journalist in Khan Shaykhun, Syria. (YouTube)
Editor’s note: This article about the alleged nerve agent attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria, earlier this month corrects an important error in the report by Theodore A. Postol that Truthdig posted Wednesday.
In my report published April 19 on Truthdig, I misinterpreted the wind-direction convention, resulting in my estimates of plume directions being exactly 180 degrees off. This article corrects that error and provides important new analytic results that follow from correction of that error.
When the error in wind direction is corrected, the conclusion is that if there was a significant sarin release at the crater as alleged by the White House Intelligence Report (WHR) issued April 11, the immediate result would have been significant casualties immediately adjacent to the dispersion crater.The fact that there were numerous television journalists reporting from the alleged sarin release site and there was absolutely no mention of casualties that would have occurred within tens to hundreds of meters of the alleged release site indicates that the WHR was produced without even a cursory low-level review by the U.S. intelligence community of commercial video data from the site. This overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that the WHR identification of the crater as a sarin release site should have been accompanied with an equally solid identification of the area where casualties were caused by the alleged aerosol dispersal. The details of the crater itself unambiguously show that it was not created by the alleged airdropped sarin dispersing munition.
These new details are even more problematic because the WHR cited commercial video as providing information that the report used to derive its conclusions that there was a sarin attack from an airdropped munition at this location.
As can be seen by the corrected wind patterns in the labeled photographs below, the predicted direction of the sarin plume would take it immediately into a heavily populated area. The area immediately adjacent to the north-northwest of the road may not be populated, as there was likely heavy damage to those homes facing the road from a bombing attack that occurred earlier at a warehouse to the direct east of the crater (designated in images below). However, houses that were immediately behind those on the road would have been substantially shielded from shock waves that could have caused heavy damage to those structures.
Since the reported wind speeds were very low, and the area is densely packed with buildings, a sarin dispersal would certainly not have simply followed a postulated plume direction as shown with the blue lines in the images below. Sarin aerosol and gas would have been dispersed both laterally and downwind by building fronts and would also have been dispersed downward and upward as the gases and aerosols were gently carried by winds modified by the presence of walls, space ways and other structures. A purely notional speculation on how a sarin plume might be dispersed by the structures as prevailing winds push the aerosol and gas through the structures is shown in the photograph that contains the notation “Possible Area of Severe Sarin Exposure.”
The complicated wind pattern inside the densely populated living area would have resulted in sarin accumulating in basements and rooms that are roughly facing into the wind. There would also have been areas between buildings where sarin densities were much higher or much lower as the gentle prevailing winds moved around corners and created pockets of high- and low-density sarin concentrations.
In addition, the crater area where the sarin release was supposed to have occurred was close enough to the densely populated downwind area that significant amounts of sarin that would have fallen near the crater during the initial aerosol release would have resulted in a persistent plume of toxic sarin being carried into this populated area as the liquid on the ground near the crater evaporated during the day.
The close proximity to the crater would have certainly led to high casualties within the populated area.
The images of the goat and the two aerial photographs immediately beneath them are taken from two different videos published on YouTube by the same crew of journalists who reported in detail on the site of the alleged sarin attack. Additional video frames from these two videos are shown deeper in the article.
Video images of the area where the alleged sarin-releasing crater was extensively photographed and reported on by local journalists in Khan Shaykhun.
In one of the video reports the journalist takes the observer on a short walk to the location of the dead goat. A close-up suggests that the animal was foaming at its mouth and nose as it died.
Video taken from a drone at high altitude operated by the television crew shows the location of the dead goat, which is clearly well upwind of the alleged sarin release point. Under all but implausible conditions, the wind would have carried sarin away from the goat and the animal would not have been subjected to a significant dose of sarin.
If one instead guesses that the goat was wandering around and had moved into the path of the newly dispersed sarin, the goat should have been found on the ground near the release point as the sarin dose within the plume would have killed it very quickly.
Two of the images from the video report are of dead birds. Neither of these video images can be connected to the crater scene as there was no continuity of evidence from the movement of the cameras.
Video images from the first of two videos of the area where the alleged sarin-releasing crater was extensively photographed and reported on by local journalists in Khan Shaykhun.
Video images from the second of two videos of the area where the alleged sarin-releasing crater was extensively photographed and reported on by local journalists in Khan Shaykhun.
This assessment with corrected wind directions leads to a powerful new set of questions—especially, why were the multiple sets of journalists who were filming at the crater where the alleged sarin release occurred not showing the numerous victims of the alleged release who would have been immediately next to the area?
It is now clear that the publicly available evidence shows exactly where the mass nerve agent poisoning would have occurred if in fact there was an event where significant numbers of people were poisoned by a nerve agent release. This does not rule out the possibility of a nerve agent release somewhere else in the city. However, this completely discredits the WHR’s claims that those who wrote the report knew where the nerve agent release occurred and that they knew the nerve agent release was the result of an airdropped munition.
There is a second issue that I have refrained from commenting on earlier in the hope that such a discussion would not be necessary.
The mainstream media is the engine of democracy. Without an independent media providing accurate and unbiased information to citizens, a government can do pretty much what it chooses without interference from the citizens who elected it. The critical function of the mainstream media in the current situation should be to report the facts that clearly and unambiguously contradict government claims.
This has so far not occurred, and this is perhaps the biggest indicator of how incapacitated the mechanisms for democratic governance of the United States have become.
The facts are now very clear: There is very substantial evidence that the president and his staff took decisions without any intelligence, or far more likely ignored intelligence from the professional community that they were given, to execute a missile attack in the Middle East that had the danger of creating an inadvertent military confrontation with Russia. The attack has already created a very serious further downward spiral in Russian-U.S. relations and has had the effect of seriously undermining U.S. efforts to defeat Islamic State, a common enemy of the United States, Russia and the Western European powers.
As such, it is a sacred duty of the mainstream media to our democracy and its people to investigate and report on this matter properly.
Theodore A. Postol is professor emeritus of science, technology and national security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a specialist in weapons issue. At the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, he advised on missile basing, and he later was a scientific consultant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon. He is a recipient of the Leo Szilard Prize from the American Physical Society and the Hilliard Roderick Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and he was awarded the Norbert Wiener Award from Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility for uncovering numerous and important false claims about missile defenses.
Theodore A. Postol can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
International media outlets have already reported extensively on Israeli commandos’ missions inside Syria to rescue wounded militants but a senior regime official’s acknowledgement of a link with ISIS is unprecedented.
Ya’alon’s explosive revelation came during an interview reported Saturday on Israeli Channel 10’s website, content portal Mako, which acts as a gateway to Israeli media outlets and websites.
Mako also incorporated footage of the event in the northern city of Afula, during which the former military affairs chief was seen describing an occasion in which Syria-based ISIS terrorists had fired into the Golan Heights.
Golan is a Syrian territory, which Tel Aviv has been occupying since 1967 and lays claim on it as its own property. Save some rare alleged rocket attacks from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, for which ISIS has reportedly claimed responsibility and have not resulted in any human injury or losses, the group has generally refused to target either Israel or the territories under its occupation.
However, Ya’alon said, after opening fire on Golan, ISIS served Tel Aviv with a quick apology, pointing to the alliance between the two, and also suggesting that the group had agreed not to target Israeli interests in line with the rapport.
“On most occasions, firing comes from regions under the control of the (Syrian) regime. But once the firing came from ISIS (ISIS) positions–and it immediately apologized,” he said.
Israeli media outlets, meanwhile, refused to report on the ISIS strike, probably because of either a media blackout or military censorship, reported Tikun Olam, a Seattle-based liberal blog dedicated to outing “the excesses of the Israeli national security state,” which also reported Ya’alon’s remarks.
“In the midst of complaining about the Islamist threat to Israel and the world, Bibi (Benjamin) Netanyahu (Israel’s prime minister) conveniently forgets that his own country enjoys a tacit alliance with ISIS in Syria,” said New York-born Dr. Richard Silverstein, who runs the blog. “It is an alliance of convenience to be sure,” he added.
According to him, Ya’alon has been speaking more candidly about the inner workings of the regime since falling out with Netanyahu and being replaced by successor Avigdor Lieberman.
“But he did reveal how closely tied Israel is to ISIS in Syria,” wrote the blogger, who has also documented Israeli collaboration with al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, which has rebranded itself.
In June 2015, the blog published a story reporting on Israel’s interventions in the foreign-backed militancy in Syria in favor of anti-Damascus militants.
It said Tel Aviv and al-Nusra had forged an alliance, featuring the former’s building camps for terrorists and their families in Israel-held territory, holding regular meetings with terrorist commanders, and providing military and other critical supplies to them.
The report incorporated a video showing Israel’s provision of medical assistance to the terrorists who had been wounded in Syria.
It also cited an incident in which locals had intercepted one Israeli ambulance carrying two wounded ISIS forces, forcing the medics to flee and beating up one of the terrorists to death. The other was also seriously injured when the regime’s forces intervened to saved him.
The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written in his latest piece: “Why should our goal right now be to defeat the Islamic State in Syria? This is a time for Trump to be Trump — utterly cynical and unpredictable. ISIS right now is the biggest threat to Iran, Hezbollah, Russia and pro-Shiite Iranian militias — because ISIS is a Sunni terrorist group that plays as dirty as Iran and Russia… Trump should let ISIS be Assad’s, Iran’s, Hezbollah’s and Russia’s headache — the same way we encouraged the mujahedeen fighters to bleed Russia in Afghanistan…”
The daily and the columnist enjoy reputations as old warhorses empathising with Israeli interests. The probability is that Friedman is advancing Israel’s project to refuel the US’ stalled project of ‘regime change’ in Syria. Israel is pulling out all the stops to ensure that the swathe of Syrian territory bordering its ‘occupied territories’ in the Golan Heights remain in the hands of Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Israel nurtured these groups to create a buffer zone between the Syrian territory it illegally occupies and where Damascus’ writ ends.
The Israeli attacks on Syrian forces operating near Golan Heights are becoming more frequent. Another major attack took place two days ago. Every time Israel attacks Syrian government assets, it provides an alibi, but in reality these attacks coincide with Syrian government operations against al-Qaeda and ISIS groups. Clearly, Israel intervenes to protect its al-Qaeda and ISIS proxies.
Friedman’s piece falls into perspective. On two occasions in recent weeks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced unease that the US may rekindle the regime change agenda in Syria and give it precedence over the fight against the ISIS. He said on April 12:
- US-led coalition only delivered strikes on selected ISIS positions. Jabhat al-Nusra has always been spared. We strongly suspect, and nobody has dispelled this suspicion so far, that al-Nusra is being spared so as to enact Plan B to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s regime. I have mentioned the potential consequences of such an action. We have seen this in Iraq and Libya. I hope that those who can draw lessons from history will prevail.
Two days back, Lavrov again warned against a “return to the old plan for changing the Syrian government.” Of course, the US’ strategy to use ‘jihadi’ groups as geopolitical tools dates back to the CIA’s Afghan war in the eighties. The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned repeatedly about such a scenario repeating, with ISIS furthering the US’ plan to weaken Russian influence in Central Asia.
All this draws attention to India’s policies toward Israel. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be visiting Israel in June. Modi is on record that one main purpose of his visit is to buttress the interests of Gujarati diamond merchants who have lucrative business dealings with Israel. Presumably, fat cats who thrive on kickbacks from Israeli arms deals and our security experts struggling with the ‘Intifada’ in J&K are also stakeholders in Modi’s Israel trip.
However, Modi should have a frank conversation with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu regarding Israel’s clandestine dealings with the Al-Qaeda and ISIS. Our intelligence agencies are constantly planting stories in the Indian newspapers highlighting the ISIS threat to India’s security, with a focus on the Malabar region. Praveen Swamy of Indian Express has been copiously reproducing such raw intelligence reports. (here, here, here and here) Such sensational reports cannot be totally dismissed as rumor-based fear-mongering garbage propagated by interest groups within the Indian establishment to raise the bogey of a ‘Kerala Islamic State’ (to borrow a colourful expression from Swamy) who aim at Hindu-Muslim polarization in the southern state.
Incidentally, Fox News reported last week that the ISIS is shifting its ‘capital’ from Raqqa to Dier es-Zor to the south, closer to the Israeli border. The American drones spotted ISIS convoys heading for Dier es-Zor but didn’t interdict them – presumably because of Israeli interests involved. (It is useful to recall that last September, US and Israel had attacked the Syrian military base in Dier es-Zor to ‘degrade’ it just hours before a major ISIS offensive to capture it.)
According to Swamy, our Malabari radicals fighting for ISIS eventually hope to return home to take revenge on the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. And yet, clearly, ISIS in Syria serves Israeli interests. Suffice it to say, Israel’s unholy alliance with Al-Qaeda and ISIS seriously undermines India’s security interests and it is only proper that Modi makes a strong demarche with Netanyahu regarding Israel’s indirect backing for the radicalization of our region. We can forgo diamond trade but not national security.
“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”
“When the CIA goes to church, it doesn’t go to pray.”
— South American aphorism
Let’s be clear. Syria is invading nobody. North Korea is attacking damn all. And Russia is threatening zilch. But on the eve of the apocalypse these nations are the ones being stoned. The sanctimonious are having a field day crucifying the leaders of these countries and stomping all over the humanity of their peoples.
In a godless universe the tormentors of Syria, Russia and North Korea are behaving as if god is on their side. If god is another word for barbaric stupidity: they’re right. In that case, though – the universe ain’t empty – it’s full of fucking god.
The silver lining to this toxic theism is the fact that god has a habit of bringing down empires. That’s the point of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It’s also the point of Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Genealogy of Morals. God tends to turn mighty empires and mighty individuals into junk.
In other words, piety and the hypocrisy that accompanies it – overtime undermines physical and political power. Let’s hope so. But do we have enough time? Because it’s beginning to feel like the end-time. The ‘mother of all bombs’ is preparing the way for the ‘mother of all suicides’.
The Bible Belt in America and the Koran Knot in Asia are being pulled so tight that the only ones who can breathe today are the Jewish and Islamic states. In the 21st century this doesn’t make sense. After a few hundred years of humanism and rationalism you’d think the world would know better.
In fact the world does know better. God is no longer an unknown entity. The Enlightenment and it’s revolutionaries revealed a long time ago that god is a human creation. “His” only purpose in the past was to create a distraction. And “His” only purpose now is to create chaos – cue the CIA.
Today’s world was created in the 1980s. After Vietnam, the gods living in and around Washington D.C. had a plan: zero taxes and zero standards for the rich. And god for everyone else. It was crude. But crude capitalism likes a crusade.
This proposal, however, wasn’t just for America but for the world. It reflected a mindset that was not only totalitarian but was also simplistic and vindictive. It sought to control life on earth at both the macro-level and the micro-level. And god help anyone who got in the way.
To cover up it’s profound imperialism, Washington D.C. around 1980 covered itself in religion: President Reagan mobilised the Protestants; his director of the CIA, William Casey, mobilised the Catholics; and Carter’s National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, mobilised the Moslems. The Jews were already mobilised so they just followed (or led) the pack. And the Hindus weren’t far behind.
As a result of all this Machiavellian metaphysics an almighty tsunami of religion washed over the earth during the 1980s (we’re still drowning in it). God became a weapon of mass destruction. And “He” was aimed at all those who criticised the rich and celebrated the victory of Vietnam. The popes, preachers and prophets were unleashed.
It was the imams however which became the heroes of Washington D.C. Because it was they who fatally wounded the USSR and Yugoslavia. In books like Devils Game by Robert Dreyfuss and The Lost Hegemon by F. William Engdahl, the Holy Alliance between Islamic fundamentalism and the CIA is laid out for all to see.
While Opus Dei (the Roman rapists) and the evangelicals (the gospel gangbangers) did god’s dirty work in the Americas, Africa and Europe – the jihadis did god’s filthiest work in the Orient. The horrendous Afghan jihad (Operation Cyclone) which Brzezinski started in 1979 became the template for US policy throughout the Orient (Algeria, Chechnya, Iraq, Libya, Mali and Syria). Indeed jihad emerged as Washington’s only answer to the rise of China. On the grand chessboard the White House was a thousand years behind it’s opponents. It had voluntarily abandoned reason in favour of religious terror.
Listen to the CIA deep thinker and RAND Corporation philosopher, Graham E. Fuller, speaking in the late 1990s:
“The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against the Russians. The same doctrines can still be used to what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.”
This is the guts of recent and current US strategy – straight from the horse’s mouth (or asshole). It’s not complicated – it’s completely nuts. Rather than being based on trade – it’s based on traditional ignorance. Instead of fanning the warm glow of international cooperation. It wilfully fans a conflagration of medieval mendacity. It’s not a pivot towards Asia but a pivot towards hell.
And the reason for this obscurantism? It’s to be found in the physical part of metaphysics. It’s to be found in the bowels of the earth. It’s the oil and gas and whatever else the US must steal and spoil to “keep America great forever”. As chief US strategist George F. Kennan wrote in 1948:
“We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population…. Our real task in the coming period [the coming century] is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality…. We should cease to talk about vague…. unreal objectives such as human rights [humanism, rationalism, secularism, modernism], the raising of living standards, and democratisation. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”
The straightest “power concept” of them all is: god. And the oldest “pattern of relationships” is also summed up in the word: god. “He” is up there and we are down here. And our job is to worship “Him”. Washington D.C. liked this model because after Vietnam it was the last model they had left in their reactionary political / philosophical arsenal. And around 1980 they used it with a vengeance. After 1980 Washington D.C. was Mecca, Jerusalem and the Vatican rolled into one. God’s word was and still is “the Washington Consensus” plus the Pentagon. And god help anyone who got in the way.
So who is in the way of the “Washington Caliphate”? Where is the current “axis of evil”? You guessed it: Syria, Russia and North Korea. The Arab Republic, the communist state and the ex-communist empire refuse to genuflect to the White House. And for committing this secular sin the mindless gods are mercilessly kneecapping them.
These three rebel states however continue to resist. In the face of almighty pressure each refuses to surrender their pride and sovereignty.
We’re witnessing a battle of wills like never before. This arc of resistance which stretches across the Eurasian landmass – from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Japan – is Brzezinski’s worst nightmare come true. Indeed viewed as one instead of three it is a formidable barrier to the totalitarian ambition of the CIA. Viewed as one instead of three it can prevail.
Why can they prevail? Because they possess the fire of the gods. They possess that which made the gods in Washington D.C. great in the first place: independence and reason. Syria, Russia and North Korea harken back to a time when modernism meant something – a time when western imperialism was the problem rather than the solution. And for this reason alone their perspective is a thousand times more real than the perspective of the god-lovers who terrorise them.
And the fire? The ultimate fire which they possess and will protect them is the nuclear bomb. Good old fashioned science (Prometheus) has given Russia and North Korea – and indirectly Syria too – the key to freedom. Say what you like about the nuclear bomb but in the hands of the weak – the Empire must back down. And in the space created we can breathe. And recall the fact that god is dead. And the emperor in Washington is wearing no clothes.
Aidan O’Brien is a hospital worker in Dublin, Ireland.
The United States and other Western countries have blocked any attempt to launch an objective investigation into the chemical weapons incident in the Syrian province of Idlib, Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a recent interview with Sputnik.
“We formally sent a letter to the United Nations, we asked them in that letter to send a delegation in order to investigate what happened in Khan Shaykhun,” Assad said.
“Of course till this moment they haven’t sent anyone, because the West and the United States blocked any delegation from coming, because if they come, they will find that all their narratives about what happened in Khan Shaykhun and then the attack on Sha’irat airport was a false flag, was a lie,” he said.
Furthermore, Assad said that in the wake of the first attack in Aleppo carried out by terrorists against the army a few years ago, Damascus had asked the United Nations to send an investigation delegation “in order to prove what we said about the terrorists having used gas against our army.”
“And later many incidents happened in that way, and they didn’t send any delegation. It’s the same now,” Assad said.
Dmitry Egorchenkov, deputy head of the Institute for Strategic Studies and Prognosis at the People’s Friendship University of Russia, noted that the current situation proves that the West continues to apply double standards.
“Structures within the UN, first of all the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), try to conduct some kind of a remote investigation. These organizations and structures have ignored other reports by Damascus about chemical weapons incidents in Syria. Our Western partners continue to follow the logic of double standards. Unfortunately, the UN is not independent and cannot have an impartial role in the investigation,” Egorchenkov told Radio Sputnik.
According to the expert, the West is blocking the probe for a number of reasons.
“These organizations (the UN and the OPCW) are controlled by Western states. They are afraid of an impartial investigation because it may turn out that the incident was organized by West-backed forces. And if it turns out that the attack was fake this would mean it was part of an information war and this would be clear,” Egorchenkov pointed out.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, the OPCW fact-checking mission investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhun said it had found traces of sarin in the victims’ bodies.
“The results of these analyses from four OPCW designated laboratories indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin like substance. While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible,” OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Wednesday.
The next day, the OPCW rejected the Russian and Iranian proposal to investigate the suspected chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Idlib.
According to ex-member of a UN commission on biological and chemical weapons Igor Nikulin, the OPCW probe cannot be considered objective in any way.
“Unfortunately, the hasty statements that they [OPCW officials] make without the commission’s visit [to Idlib], without taking analyses on the ground, are of course alarming as the footages we all saw don’t necessarily mean that exactly sarin had been used, although it cannot be excluded. If the commission arrived at the site and took trial tests, then it would be logical. But they made a diagnosis from The Hague. It reminds of a diagnosis of a doctor who did not see his patient,” he told Sputnik Radio.
Nikulin added that Damascus has been blamed for the alleged chemical attack that hadn’t been properly investigated.
On April 4, a chemical weapons incident in Syria’s Idlib Province claimed the lives of some 80 people and inflicted harm on an additional 200 civilians. The Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, as well as a number of Western states, accused the Syrian government troops of carrying out the attack, while Damascus refuted these allegations. The Syrian government has repeatedly said that the Syrian Army does not possess chemical weapons.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on April 6 that groundless accusations related to the chemical weapons incident in Idlib Province were unacceptable before the investigation into the matter had been carried out.
However, the incident was used as pretext for the United States to conduct a missile strike against Ash Sha’irat Airbase on April 6. US President Donald Trump characterized the strike as a response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syrian government troops while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was a violation of international law. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described the US missile strike against the Syrian airfield as a strategic mistake.
Three Syrian forces have been killed in a fresh Israeli attack on a military camp near the southwestern city of Quneitra, a military official says.
The attack hit the al-Fawwar camp on Sunday, wounding two others, the unnamed official told the French news agency AFP.
It was not clear whether the assault was an airstrike or shelling. The attack comes after Israel struck a Syrian army position in the province of Quneitra on the Golan plateau on Friday, “causing damage.”
A Syrian military source told the official SANA news agency that the Israeli aggression came after an attempt by terrorists to infiltrate military positions in Quneitra was foiled and the assailants suffered heavy losses.
The Israeli military confirmed the raid in a statement, saying it was conducted shortly after three mortar shells allegedly fired from Syria hit an open area in the northern occupied Golan Heights.
The Tel Aviv regime regularly hits positions held by the Syrian army in the Golan Heights, claiming that the attacks are retaliatory. Syria says the raids aim to help Takfiri militants fighting against government forces.
In the past, the Syrian army has confiscated Israeli-made arms and military equipment from terrorists fighting the government forces. There are also reports that Tel Aviv has been treating the extremists wounded in Syria.
Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria after the 1967 Six-Day War and later occupied it in a move that has never been recognized by the international community.
The regime has built tens of illegal settlements in the area ever since and used the region to carry out military operations against the Syrian government.
Army advances against militants
Separately on Sunday, Syrian forces recaptured Halfaya town in the west-central Hama Province, the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen TV channel reported.
Meanwhile, pro-opposition media reported fierce clashes between the so-called Free Syrian Army (FSA) militants and US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the northern countryside of Hama.
US defense officials also told Fox News that the Daesh terrorist group is now centered in the city of Dayr al-Zawr, some 144 kilometers southeast of Raqqah, the Takfiri outfit’s de facto capital in Syria.
They said that US military drones have watched hundreds of Daesh “bureaucrats” or administrators, leaving Raqqah in the past two months.
There is an anomaly among the evidence that the Syrian chemical weapons attack at Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on April 4, 2017 was a “false flag” operation, designed to provoke a US attack on Syria. The evidence is otherwise quite strong, as put forth by former Pentagon consultant and MIT professor Theodore Postol in his three part analysis of the declassified White House Report on the Syrian chemical weapons attack of April 4, 2017. Postol’s analysis has been widely cited as disproving the White House contention that the Syrian Air Force bombed the “rebel” controlled village with chemical weapons.
Indeed, Dr. Postol’s analysis pokes quite a few gaping holes in the White House Report, concluding that the crushed gas canister and the “crater” shown in open source videos and photographs from the site demonstrate that it could not have been delivered by air. Postol also concludes that the report is, in fact, fraudulent and was produced by the National Security Agency without the input or review of impartial intelligence professionals.
Nevertheless, Postol begs a couple of questions, the most compelling of which is how the “false flag” imposters on the ground would have known how to time their operation with the Syrian air strike that everyone admits actually took place (the Syrians and Russians alleging that only conventional weapons were used, and the Americans alleging the use of chemical weapons). In order to do this, they would have had to have advance knowledge of the attack. How would they have gotten this information?
A clue to this comes from the suspension of the Russian-American “deconfliction” agreement. Under a September, 2015, memorandum of understanding, information about all military flights by forces in the area would be shared in order to prevent dangerous and unintended confrontations. In this case, Russia informed its US counterparts of the intended Syrian strike twenty-four hours in advance.
That would be plenty of time to prepare a “false flag” operation of the type shown in the videos and photographs and described in the Postol analysis. But in that case, the information would have to have been conveyed by US sources to operatives on the ground in Idlib, which is headquarters for al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliates.
Russia seems to think that this is exactly what happened. Their unilateral suspension of the agreement has been widely interpreted as a reaction to the US attack on the al-Sha’yrat airstrip, but it may be more than that. Military actions are often calculated to appear to be a justifiable reaction to an earlier action from the other party. Thus, for example, the US chose to attack the Sha’yrat airstrip at least partly because that is where the aircraft that attacked Khan Sheikhoun had originated.
Similarly, Russia reacted to the US strike by authorizing increased anti-aircraft defenses in Syria and dispatching a frigate to its Mediterranean base in Tartus. These moves can be considered reactions to the fact that Russian anti-aircraft missile systems are known to be able to shoot down Tomahawk missiles of the type used in the US attack, and that the Tomahawks were fired from US vessels in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Syria.
But what about the suspension of the deconfliction agreement? How is that a specific response to the something done by the US? Perhaps Russia suspects that the information that they gave to the US in compliance with the agreement was leaked. Does Russia think that the US has al-Qaeda operatives at the highest and most secure levels of the U.S. government? That is a bit far-fetched, especially when there is a simpler and more plausible explanation.
The explanation is that al-Qaeda does not need operatives to get such information. The US has been strategically in bed with al-Qaeda, ISIS and their permutations for quite some time. US policy makers do not speak with a unified voice on this matter, but many – especially those of the neoconservative school of strategic policy – have cultivated the use of violent groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS as alternatives or supplements to the use of US forces on the ground.
Furthermore, many of the same policy makers were the ones who led the US into the disastrous wars in Iraq and Libya, and are committed to do the same in Syria. False flag operations and faulty intelligence are part of their stable, as they showed with their tall tales of WMD and Viagra-fueled black mercenaries. They have been influential in the US government since at least the Reagan administration, and groomed Hillary Clinton for the White House for decades.
Since the loss of their horse in the last presidential election, these policy makers have been trying to turn the Trump government against its campaign rhetoric of leaving Syria and letting Russia and the Syrian government put an end to ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria. That is not part of their playbook. Their plan therefore uses false flag operations, false intelligence and working with terrorists, in order to control US foreign and military policy through subterfuge when they cannot control it directly.
But how can they do this? What sorts of connections make it possible for them to undermine the White House, State Department and intelligence services to achieve their ends? We don’t have to look far for examples.
An obvious one is the US attack on the Syrian army at Deir ez-Zour on September 17, 2016, killing scores of Syrian soldiers and wounding many more. Critically, this happened only five days into a trial ceasefire and only two days before the trial period was to end and the ceasefire to become permanent. Needless to say, this had the effect of scuttling the ceasefire, but interestingly, ISIS troops were apparently standing by to overrun Syrian army positions almost immediately after the US aircraft completed their bombing mission (and how would they have known when it was completed?).
US military officials said it was unintentional, but an excellent investigative report by Gareth Porter demonstrates that, in fact, this was a purposeful choice by high ranking US military officers to prevent the ceasefire from forcing them to cooperate with Russian counterparts on target coordination in Syria. These officers had allies in the administration, including Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who effectively undermined the policies of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry and their Russian counterparts, President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. As Kerry admitted to the Boston Globe, “…we had people in our government who were bitterly opposed to [the agreement].”
There is plenty of circumstantial evidence of US collusion with al-Qaeda, as well. Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy advisor Jake Sullivan even went so far as to admit that “AQ [al-Qaeda] is on our side in Syria.” Is it coincidence that most of the weapons delivered to “moderate rebels”, including TOW anti-tank guided missiles that turned the tide against the Syrian army in 2014-15 were almost immediately transferred or put under the control of al-Qaeda? Or that when US forces evacuated Falujah and other territories conquered by ISIS in the same period, it left behind huge quantities of arms, vehicles and other resources, contrary to standard military policy of destroying whatever could be of use to the enemy? Or that, more recently, when retaking Mosul, US forces left the way to Syria open for ISIS to flee to Syria and use its forces to retake Tadmur (Palmyra) from the Syrian army?
Typically, the US has created intermediaries such as the quasi-mythical “moderate rebels” between them and the most extreme terrorist organizations. However, the mythical quality of these emissaries is sometimes exposed, as when an audio recording was released of a conversation between John Kerry and twenty representatives from four “moderate” Syrian organizations in September, 2016, at the United Nations.
In the recording, a Syrian woman, Marcell Shehwaro, threatens Kerry that if the US doesn’t do more to help, they will join forces with al-Nusra (the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria). Another man (unidentified) repeats the threat later in the recording. Shehwaro later argues that more support should go to al-Nusra; i.e., that “we are not arming the right people” and “there is not enough political and arms support to those who consider [al-Nusra] moderate. I wish we had these friends.”
Such admissions show that the veneer of “moderation” is very thin in these groups. They are, in fact, little more than a public relations front for al-Qaeda and ISIS, providing whatever the west needs – and especially news feeds – needed to keep support flowing.
The four groups represented at the meeting clearly have access to the highest levels of the US government and vice versa. It would be a simple matter for a US government official in the Pentagon, NSA or other agency to pass the information about Syrian aircraft movements to someone like White Helmets leader Raed Saleh, who was present at the Kerry meeting, with assurance that it would reach the al-Nusra leadership in Idlib. In effect, Kerry (and other government officials) are speaking directly to al-Qaeda.
Obama and Kerry learned their lesson. They understood the degree to which their decisions could be undermined, so to preserve their limited power, they sometimes went along with the powers that they could not control, and sometimes partly thwarted those powers. Obama was gifted with a Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, who famously told him that the alleged 2013 Syrian army use of chemical weapons was “not a slam dunk,” which led the President to back off his plan to attack Syria.
Does Trump have such people? His replacement of noninterventionist Michael Flynn with war hawk H.R. McMaster is an ominous sign that neoconservative influence is reasserting itself. And the success of the Khan Sheikhoun false flag chemical weapons attack in inciting a US attack on Syria is a clear encouragement for more such false flag operations.
Paul Larudee is one of the founders of the Free Gaza and Free Palestine Movements and an organizer in the International Solidarity Movement.
The Western media deliberately exaggerate the number of people killed in the Syrian conflict to create a “humanitarian pretext” for a possible intervention in the war-torn country, Syrian President Bashar Assad told Sputnik in an exclusive interview.
The official death toll of the Syrian war is much lower than the numbers presented by the Western media and amounts to “tens of thousands, not… hundreds of thousands,” Assad told Sputnik.
He went on to say that the West adds the number of terrorists and foreign mercenaries killed to the official death toll, to make it higher and create an image of a humanitarian catastrophe of an unprecedented scale.
“So, the numbers that we’ve been hearing in the Western media during the last six years were not precise, [they were used] only to inflate the number just to show how horrible the situation is, to use it as humanitarian pretext to intervene in Syria,” the president said.
Speaking about chemical weapons allegedly possessed by terrorist groups, Assad said that he is “100 percent” sure that the extremists receive them “directly from Turkey.” He added that “there was evidence regarding this” and “many parties and parliament members in Turkey… questioned the government regarding those allegations.”
He went on to say that Turkey is in fact “the only route for the terrorists to get money, armaments, every logistic support, recruits, and this kind of material” as they “don’t have any other way to come from the north.”
He also reiterated his belief that Turkey’s actions in Syria, as well as those of the US, are an “invasion.” He said that such actions violate Syrian sovereignty, and that Damascus cannot simply tell them “they can stay” or “let’s negotiate” after they have entered Syria without official invitation.
“It is your land, you have to defend it, you have to go and fight,” Assad said, adding at the same time that “the priority now is to defeat the terrorists.”
He also emphasized the importance of Syria’s territorial integrity by saying that all issues regarding local self-government and “confederation” should be resolved within the framework of the Syrian legal system after the end of the conflict, and should be based on a broad social consensus.
“Syria is a melting pot of different cultures, different ethnicities, religions, sects, and so on. So, a single part of this social fabric cannot define the future of Syria; it needs consensus. So, … it’s better to wait and discuss the next constitution” together with all sections of Syrian society, he said.
Ever since President Trump of the United States declared President Assad of Syria guilty of the Khan Sheikhoun attack within hours of it happening and before any investigation had taken place, I have said that any investigation of the attack had been fatally prejudiced.
Especially after the US missile attack on Al-Shayrat air base, which resulted in people being killed, the honour and prestige of the President of the United States and of the Western alliance is bound up with a finding that President Assad and the Syrian military were guilty of the Khan Sheikhoun attack. Given the stakes involved, and given the enormous power of the US President and of the Western alliance, any truly independent and objective investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack is now impossible.
The Khan Sheikhoun attack took place on 4th April 2017, ie. 17 days ago. To date no independent investigator has visited the scene, and no attempt has been made to secure the crime scene to prevent tampering. Following the attack on the humanitarian convoy in September 2016, this is what I said about the importance of this:
It is sometimes possible to infer the truth of who was behind a particular attack by looking at the evidence, but can it actually be done in this case? The short answer I would say is no.
Since the attack is being called by some a war crime, it would seem a basic step first to secure and inspect what in that case would be a crime scene before drawing any inferences and making any accusations. Almost a week after the attack not only has that not been done, but no one seems to be in any hurry to do it.
With the crime scene not secured, the possibility of contamination or outright manipulation of the evidence is very real, especially given the strong incentive to do so of the Jihadi fighters who are in physical control of it. After all that is what many claim the Jihadi fighters did to the scene of the chemical attack on Ghouta in August 2013.
The Syrians have offered the OPCW inspectors access to the Al-Shayrat air base from where the US claims the chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun was launched. The OPCW investigators have however declined to go there, and nor have they gone to Khan Sheikhoun itself, which is under Jihadi control. A joint Russia-Iranian proposal for the OPCW to set up a new inquiry, which would immediately despatch investigators to Al-Shayrat air base and Khan Sheikhoun, ran into opposition from the Western powers and was voted down by the OPCW Board yesterday.
There might be legitimate fears preventing the investigators going to Khan Sheikhoun, which is under Jihadi control, though the Jihadis did permit a journalist from the Guardian to travel there within days of the alleged chemical attack. However there can be no such fears about going to Al-Shayrat air base, which is firmly under the Syrian government’s control. The UN investigators who eventually investigated the attack on the humanitarian convoy in September 2016 ran into delays getting visas from the Syrian government to travel to Syria. The same is obviously not true in this case, with the Russians, the Iranians and the Syrians seemingly pulling out the stops to get the OPCW investigators to Al-Shayrat air base as soon as possible. In the event they are not going there, and there seems no wish or desire for them to go. Nor does there seem to be any rush to get the Jihadis who control Khan Sheikhoun to provide guarantees of access to the OPCW investigators so that they can visit the actual site of the alleged attack.
In the absence of any actual inspections of the scenes of the alleged crime, it looks like we are going to have another investigation carried out remotely, from the comfort of the OPCW’s headquarters in The Hague or from some other Western capital, as happened in the case of the investigation of the attack on the humanitarian convoy.
That this is highly unsatisfactory hardly needs to be said. Here however is what I said about it in connection with the investigation into the attack on the humanitarian convoy in September 2016, which was also carried out remotely
The Board of Inquiry’s findings are open to challenge. This is because of the delay in setting up the inquiry and the failure to secure the crime scene. As a result the Board of Inquiry was unable to carry out a physical inspection of the crime scene. Here is what the report says about this:
The Board was not allowed to visit the scene of the incident in Urem al-Kubra, the [Syrian] Government stating that it was unable to ensure the safety of the Board, given the ongoing military operations at that location. In this regard, the Board noted that 11 weeks had already elapsed by then since the date of the incident, by which time damaged vehicles had been removed and some destroyed structures had been repaired or rebuilt. Subsequent actions had therefore adversely affected the integrity of the site of the incident and consequently the availability of physical evidence. A visit to the site might therefore not have yielded commensurate results. The Board accordingly developed alternative methods of evidence collection.
All this is true but it is also deeply regrettable. As I said in my article of 26th September 2016 (see above) securing the crime scene immediately following the attack ought to have been the immediate priority. Realistically that would have required cooperation by all the Great Powers (including the US, Russia, Syria and Turkey) and probably a Resolution of the UN Security Council. The way the Western powers politicised the incident and sought to make political capital out of it made all that impossible, which is why an inspection of the crime scene has never happened.
Unfortunately without a proper inspection of the crime scene the Inquiry report is incomplete, and its findings open to challenge.
The bitter truth is that by now, 17 days after the attack, the crime scenes at both Khan Sheikhoun and Al-Shayrat air base have almost certainly been far too contaminated already to make fully secure findings possible. In the case of Al-Shayrat air base, the fact that immediately following the alleged chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun it was itself the subject of a missile attack by the US military, will of course have contaminated it further.
Alongside the OPCW’s failure to despatch investigators to the crime scene, the Russians are alleging that an attempt is underway to pack the OPCW investigation with Western investigators, with the Russians complaining that two Britons have been appointed to senior posts in the investigation.
I know nothing of these people and it may be that the Russian criticism of them is unfair. However I wonder what Western governments and the Western media would say if instead of Britons the OPCW had appointed Russians.
The Russians are now hinting that they are so dissatisfied with the way the OPCW investigation is being conducted that they are going to set up a parallel investigation of their own, though it is difficult to see how such a Russian investigation could gain access to Khan Sheikhoun unless it is recaptured by the Syrian army, which by the way is possible.
The Russians have conducted their own investigations of these sort of incidents in the past, and the results of any parallel investigation they set up into the Khan Sheikhoun affair should not be automatically discounted in advance. A Russian investigation into the Sarajevo market bombing of 1994, and one carried out by the Russian missile Almaz-Antey into the shooting down of MH17, both produced interesting results, though the Western media and Western governments and the ‘official’ investigations have either ignored them or suppressed or distorted their findings.
However those who will criticise any Russian decision to set up a parallel investigation into the Khan Sheikhoun attack as politicised and self-serving are of course right. That criticism does not however address the larger truth, which is that following the rush to pronounce President Assad and the Syrian military guilty within hours of the Khan Sheikhoun attack before any investigation had taken place, any investigation of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, irrespective of who carries it out, is now hopelessly prejudiced and politicised before it starts.
In the case of the attack on the humanitarian convoy in September 2016 the Board of Inquiry UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon set up at least tried to do a proper job, even though its failure to inspect the actual crime scene means its conclusions are incomplete and open to challenge.
However the report of that inquiry shows that it came under intense pressure behind the scenes from the Western powers to implicate the Russians in the attack. That it refused to do so, and (unlike the MH17 inquiry) refused to accept the US’s word about ‘evidence’ the US refused to show to it, or to rely on ‘evidence’ obtained via social media or the internet, was almost certainly due to the toughness and integrity of the inquiry’s chairman, an Indian military officer, who proved impervious to Western pressure, and who seems to have been determined that his inquiry would do a proper and honest job.
An OPCW inquiry staffed by citizens of the Western powers may not be so resistant to pressure. Even if the people who staff it are honest and decent, they will inevitably be concerned about the future of their careers if they produce a report that contradicts what was said by the President of the United States supported by all the other Western governments, especially over an issue where so much now is at stake.
In conclusion, the prospects of any sort of truly impartial and independent investigation taking place into what happened in Khan Sheikhoun on 4th April 2017 are now vanishingly small, and the failure to inspect the crime scene may have already made it physically impossible. The blame for that must rest with the President of the United States and with Western governments, who ignoring basic principles of due process, made a pronouncement of guilt before any investigation had taken place.
US Defense Secretary General James Mattis has arrived in Israel for talks expected to focus on Iran and Syria as well the strategic relations between Tel Aviv and Washington.
Mattis arrived in Tel Aviv Thursday afternoon from Cairo on the third leg of a week-long tour of the US allies in the Middle East.
Marking the first time he has visited Israel as the Pentagon chief, Mattis was greeted by an official honor guard at army headquarters in Tel Aviv on Friday morning.
He then met the Israeli minister for military affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, and is scheduled to hold talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin.
Mattis hopes to hear directly from Israeli leaders their concerns about regional issues, with Iran’s influence topping the list.
‘No doubt Syria has chemical weapons’
The conflict in Syria, where the US and Israel seek to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power, is also on the agenda, according to the prime minister’s office.
Israel was one of the first US allies to salute President Donald Trump for a recent missile strike on a Syrian airbase, where they alleged a suspected chemical attack originated.
Speaking during a press conference with Lieberman on Friday, Mattis said there can be “no doubt” that Syria has retained some chemical weapons and warned President Assad not to use them.
“There can be no doubt in the international community’s mind that Syria has retained chemical weapons in violation of its agreement and its statement that it had removed them all. There is no longer any doubt,” he said.
The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia have been pushing to overthrow the Syrian government through the use of proxy militant forces in the country.
Iran has been lending advisory support to Syria in its battle against the foreign-backed militants, but has avoided direct military involvement in the conflict.
Known as the “Mad Dog,” Mattis has famously said the three gravest threats to US national security were “Iran, Iran, Iran.”
While in Riyadh on Wednesday, the Pentagon chief reiterated the Trump administration’s position that Iran seeks to “destabilize” the region.
He told reporters after meeting with senior Saudi officials that “everywhere you look if there is trouble in the region, you find Iran.”
US-Israeli ties reached a low point over the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, including the United States.
Former President Barack Obama pushed for the agreement, to the dismay of Netanyahu who argued it would only strengthen Iran in the region.
Israeli leaders were emboldened by the election of Donald Trump, who has described the nuclear accord as “the worst deal ever negotiated” and threatened to “rip it up.”
In his latest criticism on Thursday, Trump blasted the deal as “a terrible agreement” that “shouldn’t have been signed,” and accused Iran of “not living up” to its spirit.