Written by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
When it comes to the two verifiable uses of sarin or sarin-like substances in Syria, namely the 2013 Ghouta attack and the 2017 Khan Sheykhoun attack, nearly all the available evidence points to them being used by the rebels. An MIT study of the Ghouta attack that examined the ballistics of the rockets used to deliver chemical agents concluded that they came from areas at the time held by the rebels. When it comes to Khan Sheykhoun, by all accounts, including rebel ones, no aircraft sortied from the Shayrat airbase until several hours after the population of Khan Sheykhoun was exposed to chemicals. Even the photos and videos made available by the rebels put into doubt the claim the munitions were delivered by Syrian aircraft, as there is no evidence of air-delivered munitions and moreover the symptoms displayed by the victims and the behavior of the first responders suggests exposure to a toxic industrial chemical rather than a highly lethal agent like Sarin. And, possibly most importantly, such sporadic use of chemical weapons would represent the worst of both worlds for the government of Syria: on the one hand it would be violating one of the biggest taboos in today’s international politics, and on the other it would not be reaping any tangible military benefits from it. Chemical weapons in order to have significant effect must be used en masse, World War 1 style. Sporadic uses, particularly after recent Western warnings not to use them, make zero political or military sense. Such attacks, however, make perfect sense for various rebel groups whose only hope of victory or even merely survival is in provoking a Western military intervention that would turn the tide of the war. So why is the dominant Western narrative of placing the blame squarely on the Syrian government (and indirectly on Russia), even though no international investigator has set foot in Khan Sheykhoun?
The first casualty of war is the truth
The sad fact is that Western elites, if not Western nations, are for all intents and purposes still at war with Syria and their rhetoric, as well as fawning media coverage, must reflect this preference lest the masses begin to suspect something is amiss. Therefore it is no accident or coincidence that every atrocity or questionable incident not only in Syria but also Ukraine is attributed to Syria or Russia within the first half hour of its occurrence, before anything even remotely resembling an investigation has taken place. This was as true for Ghouta and Khan Sheykhoun as it was for the downing of MH-17. On the other hand, atrocities where the evidence overwhelmingly points at Western-backed forces, such as the 2014 massacre in Odessa or the beheading of a young boy by a US-armed “moderate rebels” in Aleppo are suppressed, reported in a distorted fashion, or barefacedly described as a regrettable exception that in no way undermines the motives of the perpetrators. What amounts to Western covering up for the rebel use of chemical weapons in Syria is also reminiscent of how the West turned a blind eye on Saddam Hussein’s use of sarin against Iran and later against the Kurds, as long as he was seen as a useful counterweight to the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While their project to overthrow the Syrian government has demonstrably failed, they have de-facto painted themselves into the corner so thoroughly that they cannot very well change their rhetoric, since doing so would be an admission of having pursued cynical and criminal policies all along. And, since Western governments have locked themselves into conflict, their rhetoric
Whoever pays the fiddler calls the tune
The Russian government has time and again called for a transparent investigation of these incidents, but its requests are yet to be heeded by Western governments, and unfortunately the supposed investigations of the chemical weapons attacks by international organizations such as UN or OPCW unfortunately bear all the hallmarks of political influence by Western powers. This, too, is not an isolated phenomenon. Russia was singled out for its alleged state-sponsored use of doping by the IOC and WADA, even though there was no evidence other than the testimony of a disgruntled and disgraced former employee. As a result, these supposed investigations have been conducted without on-site visits and contain passages which display a high degree of ignorance of chemical weapon effects and behavior, but which are necessary in order to arrive at the pre-ordained conclusion. Thus, for example, the recent UN Commission of Inquiry report blaming Syria argued that the Russian claim the toxic agents could have been released by a conventional bomb targeting the rebel chemical stockpile was not backed by evidence, since the conventional explosives would have incinerated the chemicals thus rendering them impotent. However, it is a firmly established fact that conventional explosives do not generate the temperatures necessary to decompose, let alone incinerate, chemical agents.
The decline of the West
The deterioration of international organizations is linked to the decline of the West, which is now using every tool at its disposal to avert the emergence of a multipolar world order. International organizations are part of that tool set, in that they legitimize Western political and military dominance. The problem with using them in this fashion is that it threatens to strip the international institutions of whatever veneer of legitimacy they still have. Ironically, this could pave the way for a new set of international institutions more reflective of a world order rebalanced to reflect the growing role of other regions of the planet.