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April 30, 2013
Syria and Sarin Gas: U.S. Claims Have a Familiar Ring
By Robert Fisk
Source: The Independent
Is there any way of escaping the theatre of chemical weapons? First, Israeli "military
intelligence" says that Bashar al-Assad's forces have used/have probably used/might
have used/could use chemical weapons. Then Chuck Hagel, the US Defence
Secretary, pops up in Israel to promise even more firepower for Israel's over-armed
military – avoiding any mention of Israel's more than 200 nuclear warheads – and
then imbibing all the Israeli "intelligence" on Syria's use/probable use/possible use of
Then good ol' Chuck returns to Washington and tells the world that "this is serious
business. We need all the facts." The White House tells Congress that US intelligence
agencies, presumably the same as Israeli intelligence agencies since the two usually
waffle in tandem, have "varying degrees of confidence" in the assessment. But
Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee – she who
managed to defend Israel's actions in 1996 after it massacred 105 civilians, mostly
children, at Qana in Lebanon – announces of Syria that "it is clear that red lines have
been crossed and action must be taken to prevent larger-scale use". And the oldest
of current White House clichés – hitherto used exclusively on Iran's probable/possible
development of nuclear weapons – is then deployed: "All options are on the table."
In any normal society the red lights would now be flashing, especially in the world's
newsrooms. But no. We scribes remind the world that Obama said the use of chemical
weapons in Syria would be a "game changer" – at least Americans admit it is a game
– and our reports confirm what no one has actually confirmed. Chemical arms used. In
two Canadian TV studios, I am approached by producers brandishing the same
headline. I tell them that on air I shall trash the "evidence" – and suddenly the story is
deleted from both programmes. Not because they don't want to use it – they will later
– but because they don't want anyone suggesting it might be a load of old cobblers.
CNN has no such inhibitions. Their reporter in Amman is asked what is known about
the use of chemical weapons by Syria and replies: "Not as much as the world would
want to know … the psyche of the Assad regime …." But has anyone tried? Or simply
asked an obvious question, posed to me by a Syrian intelligence man in Damascus
last week: if Syria can cause infinitely worse damage with its MiG bombers (which it
does) why would it want to use chemicals? And since both the regime and its enemies
have accused each other of using such weapons, why isn't Chuck as fearful of the
rebels as he is of the Assad dictatorship?
It all comes back to that most infantile cliché of all: that the US and Israel fear Assad's
chemical weapons "falling into the wrong hands". They are frightened, in other words,
that these chemicals might end up in the armoury of the very same rebels, especially
the Islamists, that Washington, London, Paris, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are supporting.
And if these are the "wrong hands", then presumably the weapons in Assad's armoury
are in the "right hands". That was the case with Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons
– until he used them against the Kurds.
Now we know that there have been three specific incidents in which sarin gas has
supposedly been used in Syria: in Aleppo, where both sides accused each other (the
hospital videos in fact came from Syrian state TV); in Homs, apparently on a very
small scale; and in the outskirts of Damascus. And, although the White House
appears to have missed this, three Syrian child refugees were brought to hospital in
the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli with deep and painful burns on their bodies.
But now for a few problems. Phosphorus shells can inflict deep burns, and perhaps
cause birth defects. But the Americans do not suggest that the Syrian military might
have used phosphorus (which is indeed a chemical); after all, American troops used
the very same weapon in the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where there is indeed now an
explosion of birth defects. I suppose our hatred of the Assad regime might better be
reflected by horror at reports of the torture by Syrian secret policemen of the regime's
detainees. But there's a problem here, too: only 10 years ago, the US was
"renditioning" innocent men, including a Canadian citizen, to Damascus to be
interrogated and tortured by the very same secret policemen. And if we mention
Saddam's chemical weapons, there's another glitch: because the components of
these vile weapons were manufactured by a factory in New Jersey and sent to
Baghdad by the US.
That is not the story in our newsrooms, of course. Walk into a TV studio and they're
all reading newspapers. Walk into a newspaper office and they're all watching
television. It's osmotic. And the headlines are all the same: Syria uses chemical
weapons. That's how the theatre works.