Assad’s Poison Pill

Initially perceived as President Bashar Assad’s worst blunder in Syria’s civil war, the use of chemical weapons by his army last summer increasingly looks like his ticket to military victory and the key to his political survival.

As a small U.N.-affiliated group of chemical weapons experts toils to maintain a tight schedule mandated by the Security Council for the destruction of Syria’s chemical arms, Western diplomats and the United Nations are hard at work organizing a conference in Geneva in an attempt to end the carnage.

But critics say that it could actually help Assad win the nearly three-year war, even as he stands accused by a top U.N. official of complicity in war crimes.

Damascus says its aim in attending the proposed Geneva conference is to maintain the Assad family’s 40-year hold on power. And as observers believe that the military situation now favors the Assad government, he could also seal a diplomatic victory by leveraging his cooperation with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) team.

“Assad will continue to cooperate with the OPCW,” said a Western diplomat who closely follows Syria. “He has the know-how, so he can renew the chemical program in the future if he wants it. But for now, as long as he cooperates with the chemical team, everybody has an interest in keeping him in power,” the diplomat added, asking for anonymity so he could speak freely.

Read more at Newsweek

Videos of Syrian Chemical Attack Victims – United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

Attached are 13 videos compiled by the Intelligence Community (IC) from videos taken in Damascus, Syria following the use of chemical weapons on August 21, 2013.

via United States Senate

Human Rights Watch: Assad Regime Responsible for Chemical Weapons Attacks


Syrian Coalition
Istanbul, Turkey
September 11, 2013

“Based on the available evidence, Human Rights Watch finds that Syrian government forces were almost certainly responsible for the August 21 attacks, and that a weapons-grade nerve agent was delivered during the attack,” a Human Rights Watch report concluded.

The report mentions a body of evidence implicating the Assad regime in the chemical weapons attacks on western and eastern Gouta on the early hours of August 21st, 2013.

Human Rights Watch said they have investigated claims that FSA fighters have used those weapons but found such claims “lacking in credibility and inconsistent with the evidence found at the scene.”

This report undeniably indicates that the Assad regime is responsible for the use of internationally prohibited chemical weapons in civilian areas.

The Syrian Coalition reaffirms its call for an international proportionate response to war crimes. It stresses that crimes against humanity cannot be absolved through political concessions.

A political solution is not viable in light of the absence of a firm international response that would restrain Assad’s killing machine and ensure the Syrian people’s aspirations for freedom, justice, and dignity are achieved

via Syrian National Coalition

The West Must Not Appease Bashar al-Assad

No reasonable person, neither American nor Syrian, wishes to see the United States and its allies become deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, but for the western powers to fail to act now is tantamount to appeasement of a butcher of children. No one knows what will happen if we strike Syrian military targets; no one knows what will happen if we do not. That is not an argument. If the past is prologue, then Assad will continue to slaughter the people of Syria without discrimination. That much appears certain.

The confiscation of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal does not look like a realistic proposal on its face, because the safe transfer of massive quantities of chemical weapons in a war zone would be risky and problematic at best. How will compliance be verified when it was difficult just for UN inspectors to reach a suburb of Damascus?

The French are correct to insist upon stringent preconditions before any negotiated deal with Assad on chemical weapons. The world has tolerated this monster long enough. Every person who detests war should take a hard look at the situation in the Middle East today, and then explain to themselves how a victory for Assad, Iran and Hezbollah reduces the probability of a Middle East war, one into which the United States would be inextricably drawn by its many alliances in the region. To those who believe that opposing military action against Syria is the path of peace, I respectfully ask that they think again of the likely consequences of doing nothing.

There are indeed shades of past conflicts evoked by the images of carnage in Syria. But the deja vu being experienced is not that of Iraq–which was completely different–but of another, similar atrocity that occurred at Guernica, Spain, in 1937, of another moral failure to respond, and of the results of a flawed strategy of trying to appease a monster.

On April 26,1937, bombers and fighters of the German Luftwaffe and the Italian air force attacked the small Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain. It was an outrageous assault on an unarmed civilian population. It was the blatant mass murder of hundreds of civilians, by some accounts over a thousand were killed, men, women and children.

For America in those days, neutrality was the dominant U.S. foreign policy model, enshrined in a series of congressional acts that had been designed to further and further remove the United States from the possibility of involvement in “foreign wars.” The prevailing American sentiment then, as today in regard to atrocities being committed in Syria, was that what had happened in Guernica was not our problem. It simply didn’t involve us.

Four years later, the relevance of Guernica to the security interests of the United States became more than apparent. On December 8, 1941, in the wake of a devastating attack on American naval forces at Pearl Harbor, the United States formerly declared war on imperial Japan. Three days later, war was declared on the United States by those same German and Italian fascist regimes who had bombed Guernica only four years earlier.

Red Lines Matter – NYTimes.com

 

BERLIN — Europe knows, and this city in particular, about the importance of American “red lines.” West Berlin, caught for more than four decades 100 miles within the Soviet occupation zone, survived on the credibility of the U.S. commitment to it, demonstrated by the Allied airlift in response to the Soviet blockade of 1948.

A shattered Europe became whole, free and prosperous under the shield of U.S. credibility. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty spelled out that an armed attack against one member “shall be considered an attack against them all.” This was believable enough to deter a Soviet attack on Western Europe.

American credibility in Asia has played a substantial part in the rapid but peaceful rise of China, a power shift of a kind that has seldom, if ever, occurred in world history without major conflict. China believes in the U.S. defense commitment to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. America has been the offsetting power allaying the tensions of China’s emergence.

It is the credibility of the United States as a European and Asian and Middle Eastern power that underwrites global security.

Read more at The New York Times.

Exclusive: Intercepted Calls Prove Syrian Army Used Nerve Gas, U.S. Spies Say

 

Bodies of people activists say were killed by nerve gas in the Ghouta region are seen in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus

 

Last Wednesday, in the hours after a horrific chemical attack east of Damascus, an official at the Syrian Ministry of Defense exchanged panicked phone calls with a leader of a chemical weapons unit, demanding answers for a nerve agent strike that killed more than 1,000 people. Those conversations were overheard by U.S. intelligence services, The Cable has learned. And that is the major reason why American officials now say they’re certain that the attacks were the work of the Bashar al-Assad regime — and why the U.S. military is likely to attack that regime in a matter of days.

But the intercept raises questions about culpability for the chemical massacre, even as it answers others: Was the attack on Aug. 21 the work of a Syrian officer overstepping his bounds? Or was the strike explicitly directed by senior members of the Assad regime? “It’s unclear where control lies,” one U.S. intelligence official told The Cable. “Is there just some sort of general blessing to use these things? Or are there explicit orders for each attack?”

American intelligence analysts are certain that chemical weapons were used on Aug. 21 — the captured phone calls, combined with local doctors’ accounts and video documentation of the tragedy — are considered proof positive. That is why the U.S. government, from the president on down, has been unequivocal in its declarations that the Syrian military gassed thousands of civilians in the East Ghouta region.

Read more at Foreign Policy

Air War in Kosovo Seen as Precedent in Possible Response to Syria Chemical Attack – NYTimes.com

WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs options for responding to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, his national security aides are studying the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.

With Russia still likely to veto any military action in the Security Council, the president appears to be wrestling with whether to bypass the United Nations, although he warned that doing so would require a robust international coalition and legal justification.

“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?” Mr. Obama said on Friday to CNN, in his first public comments after the deadly attack on Wednesday.

Mr. Obama described the attack as “clearly a big event of grave concern” and acknowledged that the United States had limited time to respond. But he said United Nations investigators needed to determine whether chemical weapons had been used.

Kosovo is an obvious precedent for Mr. Obama because, as in Syria, civilians were killed and Russia had longstanding ties to the government authorities accused of the abuses. In 1999, President Bill Clinton used the endorsement of NATO and the rationale of protecting a vulnerable population to justify 78 days of airstrikes.

Read more at The New York Times.

Little Doubt: Experts Attest to Use of Nerve Gas in Syria

A man holds the body of a child allegedly killed by a nerve gas attack in Syria on Wednesday.

Experts are convinced that the hundreds of people who died in attacks in Syria on Wednesday were the victims of chemical weapons. It is yet to be confirmed, however, exactly what was deployed and whether the Assad regime is indeed responsible.

Gruesome scenes played out Wednesday morning in footage of the overcrowded hospitals of Arbeen, a suburb east of Damascus. People writhe on the floor screaming, as more and more dead fill the hallways. Doctors and nurses try to revive the victims with onion juice and garlic. They rub onion halves on their skin, pour cold water over them as they twitch uncontrollably.

“What else can we do? We don’t have anything else,” says Abu Ahmad, a pharmacist who lives in Arbeen. The area has been under the control of the rebels since the beginning of the year and, for the past few months, almost entirely cut off from the outside world by the military forces under Syrian autocrat Bashar Assad. Some 10,000 people still live there.

As of Wednesday, the death toll in Arbeen was 63. But if what the opposition is reporting turns out to be true, that is only a small sliver of the carnage: Up to 1,300 people were allegedly killed in a toxic gas attack by the Syrian army that day.

Shocking videos have been uploaded to YouTube. In them, children are seen to make up a large percentage of the dead. The videos have already had political consequences, as governments around the world reacted with horror. On Wednesday evening, the UN Security Council announced the need for “clarity” about the reported use of chemical weapons, but they didn’t reach agreement about launching an investigation.

Read more at Der Spiegel

Assad Regime Bombards Damascus Suburbs with Chemical Weapons

Syrian Coalition
Istanbul, Turkey
Augusts 21, 2013

The Syrian Coalition calls upon the Security Council of the United Nations to hold an emergency session on the latest Assad crimes against the Syrian people. We urge the Security Council to condemn Assad’s crimes and issue a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter pertaining to maintaining international peace and security to which Assad has undoubtedly become the biggest threat.

The Syrian Coalition emphasizes that the Security Council’s failure to assume its responsibilities towards the unfolding situation in Syria would raise questions about its raison d’être. If the Security Council does not act firmly, it will lose all legitimacy.

Assad forces have committed clear massacres against hundreds of unarmed and defenseless civilians, shelling the eastern and western Ghouta areas with chemical agents. The Syrian Coalition calls upon the Friends of Syria to act immediately and not wait for the Russian veto to once again cover up Assad’s crimes. Countries who claim to be friends of Syria must come together to put an end to the Syrian tragedy by immediately restraining Assad’s crimes.

Read more at Syrian National Coalition