The alleged threat of Syria’s chemical weapons

By Robert Fisk

The Independent

THE BIGGER THE LIE the more people will believe it. We all know who said that – but it still works. Bashar al-Assad has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own Syrian people. If he does, the West will respond.

We heard all this stuff last year – and Assad’s regime repeatedly said that if – if – it had chemical weapons, it would never use them against Syrians.

But now Washington is playing the same gas-chanty all over again.

Bashar has chemical weapons. He may use them against his own people. And if he does…

Well if he does, Obama and Madame Clinton and Nato will be very, very angry. But over the past week, all the usual pseudo-experts who couldn’t find Syria on a map have been warning us again of the mustard gas, chemical agents, biological agents that Syria might possess – and might use.

And the sources? The same fantasy specialists who didn’t warn us about 9/11 but insisted that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction in 2003: “unnamed military intelligence sources”. Henceforth to be acronymed as UMIS.

And now, the coup de théâtre. Someone from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called me up this week to talk about the use of chemical weapons by Hafez al-Assad in Hama during the Sunni Muslim uprising in the city in 1982. Their sources were the same old UMIS. But I happened to have got into Hama in February 1982 – which is why the Canadian was calling me – and while Hafez’s Syrian army was very definitely slaughtering its own people (who were, by the way, slaughtering regime officials and their families), no one ever used chemical weapons.

Not a single soldier I saw in Hama carried a gas mask. No civilians carried gas masks. The dangerously perfumed air which I and my colleagues smelt after chemicals were used by our (then) ally Saddam against Iranian soldiers in the 1980s was not present. And none of the dozens of civilian survivors I have interviewed in the 30 years since 1982 ever mentioned the use of gas.

But now we are to believe that it was used. And so the infantile new fairy tale has begun: Hafez al-Assad used gas against his own people in Hama 30 years ago. So his son Bashar may do the same again. And wasn’t that one of the reasons we invaded Iraq in 2003 – because Saddam had used gas against his own people already and may do so again?

Yes, the bigger the lie, the better. Certainly we journos have done our duty in disseminating this bunkum. And Bashar – whose forces have committed quite enough iniquities – is about to be accused of another crime which he has not yet committed and which his father never did commit. Yup, chemical weapons are bad news, folks. That’s why the US supplied Saddam with the components for them, along with Germany (of course).

That’s why, when Saddam first used gas on Halabja, the UMIS told CIA officers to blame Iran. And yes, Bashar probably does have some chemicals in rusting bins somewhere in Syria. Madame Clinton has been worrying that they may “fall into the wrong hands” – as if they are presently “in the right hands”. But the Russians have told Bashar not to use them.

Would he piss off his only superpower ally?

And by the way, which was the first army to use gas in the Middle East? Saddam? Nope. The Brits, of course, under General Allenby, against the Turks in Sinai in 1917. And that’s the truth.

21 comments on “The alleged threat of Syria’s chemical weapons

  1. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    The imperialist approach seems to be a mixture of their tactics re Kosovo and their tactics re Iraq.

    Apart from the dodgy dossier about chemical weapons, I watched an interview on a Turkish TV channel with a young woman who had been kidnapped by the NATO-backed “revolutionaries”, and subsequently released. (A Syrian state TV worker kidnapped with her was murdered by his captors, however.) She told the interviewer that the first thing her captors asked her was what her religion was. They asked that before they asked her her name or what her job was.

    She was well-educated, spoke good English (she was interviewed in that language and a Turkish voice-over was dubbed in by the channel) and wore Western-style clothes. She said her captors seemed ignorant and under the control of others that she never saw, possibly non-Syrians.

    The woman seemed to me just the kind of person who may become a refugee if the NATO/Saudi/Qatari/Al Qaida-backed “revolutionaries” win. That is, if she survives long enough to flee.

  2. It does seem odd that one of the USA’s expressed concerns is that chemical weapons that they allege belong to the current government that they are seeking to overthrow might fall into hands of the very client forces that the West is arming to achieve that overthrow.

    What a mess.

  3. “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare. It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas. I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum. It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.” Winston Churchill, urging the use of gas on Kurds in Iraq 1920

    I thought the first post WW1 use of gas by the RAF was mustard gas on the Bolsheviks in 1919.

  4. jack ford on said:

    yes Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction that can be activated in forty five minutes, the President of Iran is the second incarnation of Hitler and humanitarian intervention in Syria is needed in order to put a bunch of Al Qaeda jihadists in power who will clearly have an enlightened view towards Syria’s Christian and Alawite minorities.

  5. ‘jack ford’ – please do us a favour, can you please choose one name and stick to it. If you want to snipe in threads about the SWP, do it under the same name you post under normally. Your comments on this site are really good, and you’re entitled to have a go if there are articles you don’t like. But choose one name, yeah? You’ve posted in (at least) 2 names in one thread in the last 24 hours.

  6. John Grimshaw on said:

    Jeremy Bowen was on the radio this am talking to representatives of both sides in the Syrian civil war. He had an interview with one of the commanders of an Islamist-leaning militia group who are occupying a suburb of Damascus. He was very clear that they weren’t Al-Qaeda and interestingly his evidence for this was that they were all Syrians not foreigners. Anyway the point is that he was armed with the latest M4 US made assault rifle. Now I wonder where he got that from?

  7. Probably Iraq John, apparently there is a thriving cross border trade, with the Iraqi Govt supplying the regime and arms flowing in from the black market over the Kurdish frontier to the rebels- and there’s a lot of spare US arms floating around Iraq for anyone with Qatar supplied dollars.

  8. Jellytot on said:

    @3I thought the first post WW1 use of gas by the RAF was mustard gas on the Bolsheviks in 1919.

    Yes, it was the first postwar use, but may have been adamsite rather than mustard gas. The Bosheviks also used poison gas to supress the 1921 Tambov Rebellion supposedly.

  9. Andy Newman:
    It does seem odd that one of the USA’s expressed concerns is that chemical weapons that they allege belong to the current government that they are seeking to overthrow might fall into hands of the very client forces that the West is arming to achieve that overthrow.

    What a mess.

    Got any evidence for this? The fact there is no clear motive for the US to declare Syria has chemical weapons, and that the intelligence agencies always said there is far more evidence against Syria than Iraq, tends to lend credibility to the concerns.

  10. #12 The motives that I can see would be: (a) to further demonise the Assad regime and soften public opinion for more direct intervention, (b) to provide a trigger point whereby there is an allegation that chemical weapons have been used, (c) to paint a picture of scary chaos in which all kinds of evil people have their hands on frightening weapons, requiring direct and long term presence.

    At the same time, NATO missiles are being deployed along Turkey’s borders with Syria, and German and US troops will be sent to help maintain them.

  11. Vanya:
    #12 The motives that I can see would be: (a) to further demonise the Assad regime and soften public opinion for more direct intervention, (b) to provide a trigger point whereby there is an allegation that chemical weapons have been used, (c) to paint a picture of scary chaos in which all kinds of evil peoplehave their hands on frightening weapons, requiring direct and long term presence.

    At the same time, NATO missiles are being deployed along Turkey’s borders with Syria, and German and US troops will be sent to help maintain them.

    The problem with that theory is the Obama administration has never shown any inclination to want to get involved in Syria. Even with Libya they allowed the Europeans to get the ball rolling. This is completely different to Iraq where there had been a long plan and strategy for an invasion going back a decade. With Syria the situation is getting more complicated and making it even less likely that the US would intervene.

    I think if anything the US are using the chemical weapons as an excuse NOT to get involved. They’re hyping the likelihood of their existence and the possibility they might use them, so as to set the bar really high. Since Assad won’t use them, and they know it, they don’t have to do anything, but can still look as though they might. They’re practically announcing that Syria can get as bad as it wants as long as they don’t use these weapons. It’s like a green light.

  12. Joseph: the Obama administration has never shown any inclination to want to get involved in Syria

    The USA is already involved in Syria and has been for some time. As Senator John Kerry has remarked apropos the claim that the USA is ‘failing to lead’ on Syria:

    “The United States doesn’t have to go off and do everything to be the leader. Actually, it’s pretty smart to get somebody else to do some things for you. You save the American taxpayer a few dollars, you don’t put American troops at risk, and you get the job done.”

    http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/05/08/kerry_time_to_consider_safe_zones_and_arming_the_opposition_in_syria

  13. redhand on said:

    No safe zone for Palestinians in Syria today, irrespective of what Kerry may have said several months ago. At least 20 dead now reported from the earlier bombing, by Russian weapons delivered by Russian aircraft, of Yarmouk refugee camp.

  14. redhand: No safe zone for Palestinians in Syria today, irrespective of what Kerry may have said

    You sound disappointed. In fact the touting of ‘safe zones’ in Syria is nothing more than a guise for proposing direct NATO military incursion, as the so-called ‘no-fly zone’ was in the case of Libya.

    redhand: by Russian weapons delivered by Russian aircraft

    I would suggest some caution on this, given the record of anti-government ‘activists’ as sources of exaggerated or false reports from Syria.

    In any case Russia has, in contrast to the USA, played a constructive role re: the Syrian conflict- eg, supporting efforts for dialogue and mediation, and (along with China) blocking NATO from getting UNSC agreement to a direct military assault on Syria.

  15. redhand: You sound indifferent.

    Well, what is achieved by being emotionally manipulated for the sake of the ‘humanitarian’ imperialist agenda?

    As far as I can make out, the armed opposition is carrying out atrocities as bad or likely considerably worse than the regime, attached also to a very nasty sectarianism.

    In any case, the West and its Gulf Kingdom + Turkish clients are not only fuelling the conflict (eg, funding, arming and training the ‘rebels’) but sabotaging the attempts at a negotiated solution.

  16. Mark Victorystooge on said:

    #20 – Much of the oh so PC, Racial Equality Commission Western left seems pretty “indifferent” to the fact that many Libyan “revolutionaries” have racial attitudes that would not be out of place in a Ku Klux Klan klavern. And Syria’s millions of Alawites, Shia, Christians and Druze are, I think, in real danger if the “opposition” wins.