The question regarding the use of sarin gas by the Syrian regular troops comes across like a fool’s game. When asked about this on July 23, 2012, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdisi responded that the unconventional weapons that his country is likely to possess would only be used against external enemies. This statement was interpreted by the media in NATO and GCC states as a threat against the "rebels" in that Damascus equates them to the "Contras" in Nicaragua, who were made up mostly of foreigners. It was, in fact, and without the shadow of a doubt, targeting both NATO countries and Israel. The spokesman was unambiguous about the fact that no such weapons would ever be used against Syrian "insurgents."

Regardless, Jihad Makdisi’s statements were a godsend for an organization like NATO which, in 2003, had had no qualms about inventing the existence of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq. Twice, on 20 August and 3 December 2012, President Barack Obama warned Syria against the use of chemical weapons. If "we start seeing a whole bunch of weapons moving around or being utilized...That would change my calculus, my equation,” he said at first. He later added, "I want to make it absolutely clear to Assad and those under his command, the world is watching...The use of chemical weapons is and would be totally unacceptable...If you make the tragic mistake of using these weapons, there will be consequences."

The liberal hawks and neoconservatives then campaigned for Western military intervention. According to them, Syria was experiencing an "Arab Spring" brutally repressed by a "dictator." Consequently, the international community had a duty to intervene in defense of lofty ideals. Obviously, there was no hint about the years of preparation and financing of the "Arab Spring" by NATO and the GCC, to appropriate Syria’s hydrocarbons and impose an Islamic Zionist regime. Thus, Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning under Hillary Clinton (2009-2011), compared Obama’s laissez-faire in Syria to the Rwandan case in a Washington Post column [1].

In 2003, evidence of "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq came from a surprise witness. While the head of the United Nations inspection mission, Hans Blix, confirmed before the Security Council that such weapons had not existed in Iraq since 1991, an exiled scientist, Hussain al-Shahristani, stepped forward to provide testimony corroborating Secretary of State Colin Powell’s assessment that Saddam Hussein was in possession of chemical, bacteriological and nuclear weapons. His views were confirmed by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. None of his allegations would stand up to the facts. Once Iraq was invaded, plundered and destroyed, Washington admitted to being wrong, while the false witness was named Deputy Prime Minister of "liberated" Iraq and the IISS continued its perorations.

This time, the work of media intoxication would be done by France and the United Kingdom. The two colonial powers that had divided the Middle East in 1916 have pushed for Western military intervention in spite of three Russian and Chinese vetoes. On May 27, on the eve of a crucial meeting of EU ministers on the possible delivery of arms to the "rebels", French daily Le Monde published a report by Jean-Philippe Rémy attesting to the use of sarin gas in Damascus. The reporter brought back samples of blood and urine to be tested by a French military laboratory. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius wasted no time in reacting, while the British government cried out against a "war crime." In conclusion, according to the White House: "Our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year."

The problem is that there is no problem: first, the use of sarin gas was banned by the 2007 Convention on chemical weapons which has been ratified neither by Israel nor by Syria [2]. De facto, these two states can manufacture, possess and use such weapons legally without committing "war crimes." Second, the use of sarin gas by regular forces may well have been confirmed by Paris, London and Washington, but it nevertheless remains extremely doubtful. The case reported by Le Monde is no less doubtful: the Syrian Arab Army allegedly used such weapons in Damascus, in the district of Jobar, without the gas drifting across the street and reaching the civilian population in the rest of the capital. The combatants affected did not suffer from seizures, indicating a very low spread. They reportedly treated themselves using atropine, but also with local treatments including eye drops, which is useless for a gas which penetrates through the skin. In short, the Franco-Anglo-American evidence will probably no more resist the test of facts than those accumulated by George W. Bush and Tony Blair against Iraq.

Transmitted by Washington to Moscow, the evidence put forward by the West was derided by Yuri Ushakov, the foreign policy adviser to the Kremlin. He couldn’t help but think about the alleged vial of anthrax waved by Colin Powell in 2003 before the Security Council.

Where the use of sarin gas should be considered an abomination requiring an international response, one wonders why the allegations of Carla del Ponte, a member of the Commission of Inquiry of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, have failed to elicit the same reactions. She said, on May 5, 2013, on Swiss television that: "Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals, and there are strong, concrete suspicions, but not yet incontrovertible proof, of the use of sarin gas...This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities." Her remarks merely confirmed the claims of the Free Syrian Army itself which, on December 5, 2012, displayed its painful attempts to acquire chemical weapons, threatening to use them against the Alawites [3]. However, no reaction was forthcoming, given the scathing denial made by her own Commission at the request of the High Commissioner, Navy Pilai. In the absence of a political endorsement, the words of the former Swiss prosecutor committed only herself.

Once accepted that sarin gas was used by the regular army, the White House has a legal argument for doing what it has done illegally since the beginning of the conflict: supply arms to the "Contras" [4]. Rushing into the breach, General Salim Idriss, commander of the Free Syrian Army has ordered anti-tank rockets and surface-to-air missiles. They can be helpful, but not decisive, because what his "army" needs is men much more than hardware. However, U.S. deliveries should be limited to small arms and ammunition: the war is coming to an end. Washington no longer hopes to conquer Syria, just to have the FSA liquidate the Al-Nusra Front. Those who believed in Washington’s promises will pay the costs. Turkey is paralyzed by a political uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood, incarnated by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, while Washington has forced the Emir Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar to yield the throne to his son Tamim. The moment of the new division of the Middle East, between Russians and Americans, is nearing.

Roger Lagassé

[1"Obama should remember Rwanda as he weighs action in Syria," by Anne-Marie Slaugter, The Washington Post, April 26, 2013.

[2See the official OPWC site.

[3"FSA showcases its chemical weapons lab", Voltaire Network, 5 December 2012.

[4"Exclusive: Obama Authorizes Secret U.S. Support for Syrian rebels" by Mark Hosenball, Reuters, 1 August 2012.