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

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