Saturday,24 June, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)
Saturday,24 June, 2017
Issue 1340, (13 - 19 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Libyan chemicals in Syria

In two articles appearing in The London Review of Books in December 2013 and April 2014 (“Whose Sarin” and “The Red Line and the Rat Line”), the Pulitzer prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh reported that the Obama administration falsely blamed the government of Syria’s Bashar Al-Assad for the Sarin gas attack in Ghouta, which Obama was trying to use as an excuse to invade Syria. Hersh pointed to a report from British intelligence saying that the Sarin that was used in the Ghouta attack was not identical to that in Al-Assad’s stockpiles.

Subsequently, in an interview with Alternet.org (20 April 2016), Hersh was asked about the then-US secretary of state’s role in the Benghazi US consulate’s operation to collect weapons from Libyan stockpiles and send them through Turkey into Syria for a set-up Sarin gas attack to be blamed on Al-Assad in order to “justify” the US invading Syria, as the US had invaded Libya to eliminate Muammar Gaddafi. Hersh said: “That ambassador who was killed, he was known as a guy, from what I understand… as somebody, who would not get in the way of the CIA. As I wrote, on the day of the mission he was meeting with the CIA base chief and the shipping company. He was certainly involved, aware and witting of everything that was going on. And there’s no way somebody in that sensitive of a position is not talking to the boss, by some channel.”

Now why is it that there was no reaction, here, to those serious claims made by Hersh, famed for the earth shattering journalistic coups he has made since the US’ war in Vietnam? He directly implicates Hillary Clinton, at the time she served as US secretary of state, in the transfer of toxic gas and other weapons from Libya to Syria via Turkey from the period between 2012 and 2013. He adds that a number of Arab parties funded the operation that was carried out under the supervision of the CIA. The operation was to funnel internationally banned chemical weapons into the hands of terrorist groups that the US administration called the “moderate” Syrian opposition, so that they could stage a chemical weapons attack against civilians that the US and its media machine would blame on the Syrian regime and use as a pretext for a military intervention to overthrow Al-Assad, thereby satisfying the aims of the Arab funders as well as the ambitions of both Turkey and Israel.

This, according to Hersh, was how Al-Nusra Front was equipped with Sarin gas from Libya and used it to carry out the criminal attack against Ghouta in August 2013. This certainly seems worth bearing in mind in the aftermath of the recent atrocity perpetrated against Khan Sheikhoun, killing dozens of innocent civilians. The Western media rhetoric is the same as it was three years ago and this time it was accompanied by a US missile attack against Syria.

Why, at least, has no one here stated a clear position with respect to the civil society organisations that sought to have Clinton account for the allegations that appeared over a year ago and other attempts to inform the US public about the true nature of their government’s policies? Odder yet are those lamentations we sometimes hear, in the Arab region, over Clinton’s defeat in the presidential elections, regardless of her obvious support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the pressure she exerted to restore them to power against the will of the Egyptian people.

Hersh is not the only reporter who has been covering this. Writing beneath the headline, “Top US and Saudi Officials responsible for Chemical Weapons in Syria,” on 7 October 2013, another investigative journalist, Christoph Lehmann, reported, on the basis of very different sources than those Hersh used, that “Evidence leads directly to the White House, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey, CIA Director John Brennan, Saudi Intelligence Chief Prince Bandar, and Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry.” And, as if that weren’t enough, even the definitive analysis of the evidence that was performed by two leading US analysts, the Lloyd-Postal report, concluded that, “The US government’s interpretation of the technical intelligence it gathered prior to and after the 21 August attack cannot possibly be correct.”

Obama has clearly been lying.

Bearing the foregoing in mind, there still remains the question as to Trump’s actual aims and the messages he intended to deliver by launching missile strikes. Until hours before this, the Russians had been more committed to perpetuating Al-Assad’s Alawy regime than to fighting Islamic State (IS) terrorism. And until hours before the strike, the US administration was committed to the elimination of IS regardless of whether or not Al-Assad and his regime remained in power. Then the “red line” was crossed and a chemical attack occurred against militia locations in Khan Sheikhoun. This was followed by the US’ unilateral missile attack against the Syrian air base, all of which has given rise to innumerable questions.

Analysts have registered a number of important observations concerning the US attack:

Firstly, this was not a declaration of war. It was a limited operation targeting a specific military base and it was intended as a punitive action against the Syrian regime and a reminder to it that it had better stick to the rules of the game.

Secondly, the US missile attack received implicit Russian approval. How else can one explain that the S-300 and S-400 missile battery systems in Syria were not put to use to intercept the incoming US missiles?

Thirdly, the timing was brilliant. It took place just as Trump was having his first dinner with his guest the Chinese president, driving home the point that Trump means what he says. It sent a clear message to Iran and North Korea who are plying with fire with their provocative ballistic missile tests. It boosted Trump’s popularity at home, which had begun to sink due to mistakes by his senior staff members.

Moscow condemned the US missile attack against Syria as an attack against a sovereign stage. But it is interesting to note that this attack also occurred only days ahead of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to Moscow.

One thing for sure, we are looking at a watershed. It is still enigmatic, but the results will become apparent fairly soon. These will take the form of new shifts in regional and international alliances now that the cards have been reshuffled and Trump’s Washington has plunged into the Syrian arena in direct confrontation against the Russians and Iranians on the ground.

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