Additional Analysis of the events of April 3-4, and as many questions as answers.
We know that a chemical attack or incident occurred. The Syrian rebel leaders are consistent in blaming the Syrian air force as having dropped chemical bombs. The government is equally insistent that it has no chemicals to use. Both have motives to lie. Both have used chemicals in the past, but only the rebel version of the latest incident received attention at the UN and in mainstream news coverage.
There is another version of what happened worth considering. For example, the London based news website Ra’y al-Yawm published the following version of events.
“Syria: Sources Confirm That the Explosion of a Chemical Manufacturing Workshop Belonging to Armed Factions is Responsible for Killing Scores in Khan Shaykhun in Idlib. Syrian Army Denies Possessing Chemical Weapons, and Russia Denies Conducting Raids in the Area.”
“Military sources in Syria have spoken to our correspondent about accusations against the Syrian and Russian air forces of using chemical materials and toxic gases in an attack that killed or wounded scores of people in Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib countryside.”
“The sources stated that a workshop used for fitting rockets with poisonous gas payloads exploded in Khan Shaykhun, killing or wounding the workshop’s personnel and causing a release of toxic substances that injured nearby civilians.
The news website is anti-American, but also very pro-Palestinians and pan-Arab. It is no friend of the Syrian government.
Both sides could be responsible. Various rebel opposition groups have posted video images of their chemical weapons labs from time to time. We know some rebel groups use chemicals. The alternative story raises a question as to whether Western intelligence agencies knew or suspected that the rebels had a chemical or other weapons storage facility in Khan Shaykhun. If so, the location would be a target.
As to opportunity, an air attack would provide credible cover for a disastrous accident or for an accurate aerial bombing of a rebel weapons storage location that contained chemicals as well as conventional weapons. The alternative is plausible and similar events have occurred outside conflict situations, such as the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984.
As for motive, the war is going against the rebels. They have an urgent need for outside help to restrain the Syrian government forces and the Russians.
As for opportunity, the fighting in Idlib has not seemed to be going so poorly for the government that it required a chemical attack to cause a breakthrough. There is credible evidence that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons to try to reverse deteriorating tactical situations or to break hard core resistance. I do not have the sense that either condition applied to Khan Shaykhun.
Syria and Russia are less careful about civilian casualties than Western powers have tried to be. The Russians and Syrians tend to consider civilians in rebel held areas to be sympathizers or actual supporters of the rebels. The rebels also are not careful about killing civilians, sending them back to Allah, they say.
As for this attack, the Syrian air force is essentially a subset of the Russians. Both have motives to lie about a chemical attack, but both have no motive to conduct a chemical attack because the fighting is going their way. We judge the Russians would know whether Syrian aircraft dropped bombs with chemical weapons. Their denial is self-serving, but that does not make it a lie.
The other explanation confutes the rebel story and cautions against a quick rush to judgment based on only one side of the story. One point of certainty is that both sides have used chemical weapons in the war. The corrupt, lying, elite, smug mainstream media in the US is often a victim of “premature closure,” which means drawing a hard conclusion before all the pertinent evidence has been discovered. We saw this in almost every single police officer involved shooting over the past eight years where a black person was shot. This may be happening again here and it may be worth waiting until the evidence is in before escalating US involvement in a confrontation with Russia.
Western countries have criticized Russia for vetoing the proposed UN resolution condemning Syria for the chemical attack, but mainstream news services have paid less attention to China’s veto and explanation. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson gave the following explanation for China’s veto.
“The Chinese side has noted reports on the recent occurrence of suspected incidents of chemical weapons that hurt people in Syria. The Chinese side’s position on the chemical weapons issue is consistent and clear. We oppose the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances for any purpose. We particularly condemn acts of using chemical weapons against civilians.”
“The Syrian chemical weapons issue has a bearing on the maintenance of the international non-proliferation regime and on the promotion of a political resolution of the Syrian issue. We stand for the need to carry out an objective and impartial investigation into the attack so as to identify perpetrators and responsible parties based on solid evidence.”
The Chinese veto is a caution against rushing to judgment. There are no good guys involved in the Khan Shaykhun disaster.