The Assad regime has crossed countless of red lines for decades while the world barely noticed it. Bashar al-Assad’s spectacular outdoing of his father’s three decade reign in less than three years of unimaginable terror couldn’t go by unnoticed, yet the world barely cared. We are led to believe that this has suddenly changed because a “red line” has been crossed, but after two and a half years of talk without action seeing is believing. As of this moment, despite all of the drums of war going off, we’ve seen nothing yet.
MASS GASSINGS ARE NOT A BIG DEAL FOR THE ASSAD REGIME
This regime knows no boundaries of any sort, only black holes. The chemical massacre that took place in Eastern and Western Ghouta has been the largest one so far, surpassing the massacres of Banyas, Deir Balbeh, Daraya, Azaaz, Judaidat Artooz, Yalda and al-Arbaeen, Sayyida Zeinab, Tremseh, al-Qubayr, Kafr Zeita and Haffe, Houla, the Aleppo breadline massacres such as in Qadi Askar, or the massacres in Myassar, Ansari, Kafr Hamra, Qaterji and al-Fardous and the hundreds of other massacres that have been committed on a daily basis in the genocide against the Syrian people.
The other difference is that it was “clean.” Gassing a population is as Nazi-clean as it gets, quite different from the mass destruction caused by SCUD missiles and barrel bombs or the bloody scenes from the aftermath of rampages through towns and villages. It reminds more of the case when a passerby was calmly escorted into the bushes and executed with a single shot. Assad’s death machine clearly doesn’t consist of wild beasts alone, there are calculating mass murderers at work with a surgeon as their head.
As Assad once explained himself, he is merely surgically trying to keep the patient alive, in this case “Suriya al-Assad” as they call the country. Ghouta was simply treated with Dr. Assad’s chemotherapy, trying to save its Assadist life-force from cancerous freedoms. If necessary, more and worse will follow. For Assad, the ends justify whatever means are available. This is not only something that we’ve seen over and over, it’s what they sadistically tell us. In Syria, life has no value without servitude to Assad. Syria has no value without Assad. To the willful slaves of Assad “there is no god but Bashar,” so they proclaim “Assad or we burn the country,” and so they have.
[Assadist graffiti: “Al-Assad or we burn the country.” Signed: “The Men of Death.”]
Trying to brainwash naive and inexperienced Syrians, who by now barely exist anymore, along with uninformed others into believing that this demonic force is actually Syria’s hope and future, a cheap story has been sold. A story filled with delusional conspiracies, Islamophobia and racism, fabrications and deceit. A story that is an insult to rational and humane thought. For the past two and a half years, the Assad regime has followed its standard propaganda protocol in responding to any new accusations that emerge: it didn’t happen. There were no demonstrations or massacres, only quiet parks that were shown on TV all day. No tanks, no helicopters and no airplanes. Defections and fighting never happened, the footage was shot in the Doha studio’s. Disappearances and torture that happened for decades never happened either. Field executions didn’t happen, the images were from Iraq. Thousands of videos, pictures and eye witness reports were staged, fabricated, fake.
This was also the government’s initial response to the chemical massacre, and it is what Faisel Meqdad continues to claim today: it was all a hoax to distract the present UN investigators from their mission and to frame Assad. But it most certainly did happen, hundreds of children and many more adults have been gassed to death and chemical weapons have been used in doing so.
Every time it becomes beyond any dispute that horrible crimes have been committed, Assad’s propaganda machine quickly follows a second standard procedure which is to blame it on someone else. Sometimes that someone didn’t even exist such as al-Qaeda and foreign terrorists back in 2011, or mercenaries and international secret service agents. They were sniping demonstrators from afar, shooting at the security forces from among the demonstrators, planting bombs and doing suicide bombings, destroying Mosques and shrines, attacking residential areas with rockets and mortars, kidnapping the reportedly missing; and when it came to defections it meant air force pilots initially defecting, making a run into residential areas and bombarding them and then either escaping to Jordan and Turkey or repenting and returning to base.
It’s therefore no surprise that exactly the same happened now with the massacre in Ghouta, as after initially denying it and in fact still denying the entire thing (Meqdad) the opposition was quickly blamed for committing it. The propaganda machine became overheated again, pumping one of after the other fabricated fact and conspiracy delusion into the air and onto the net. Videos were dissected to show that the opposition murdered all those people, calling “false flag”, rehashing old claims about previous chemical attacks, even claiming that these were Shi`a areas or that the bodies of the victims were actually kidnapped Alawites from Latakia. The latter would rather imply that it was a hoax and so the schizophrenic “nothing happened but the terrorists did it”-line continues.
Adding insult to injury, Assad fanatics have openly called for the use of chemical weapons and celebrated when they got what they were after. That’s what is often overlooked: those who incite, call for and celebrate genocide and mass destruction [chemical, biological or otherwise], the “Assad or we will burn the country” maniacs, and those who initiated the trendy delusions of hoaxes and false flags are one and the same: the worshipers of Assad.
The black hole that Assad is turning Syria into knows no bounds, once again he has outdone himself. He most certainly has the will. He also has the capability and never denied this. In fact, his servants take pride in it. The Syrian people know that very well, it’s part of the military culture and anyone who is well informed is aware that this regime has very large stockpiles of chemical weapons, long running programs to produce them, as well as the military skills and capabilities to deploy them.
Beyond moral justification and military capability, their responses have completely given them away:
1) They deny anything happened while at the same time affirming it took place and blaming others for it.
2) Their threats of chemical massacres have become a reality.
3) Nobody was reprimanded for these threats and celebrations.
4) No compassion towards the victims.
5) No attempt was made at helping nor allowing others to help.
6) They kept the UN away for at least 5 days.
7) They continued to bombard the affected areas.
8) They made no attempt at protecting their own areas from such attacks in the future.
HOW COULD ASSAD POSSIBLY BE SO STUPID
One could say: just look at his track record. But after two years of this outrageously apparent stupidity on the part of this regime failing to result in its actual downfall, such reasoning doesn’t hold. After all this time, Assad achieved his main objectives, most of all his own survival, and these are yet to be threatened by his losing of more than half of the country. At this rate, the war could drag on for many years to come. Indeed, he would not be so stupid to jeopardize that. However, the question is: has he done so by committing this chemical massacre?
“Why would the Assad regime use chemical weapons — while the UN twenty-man investigation team is in Damascus?” — this seems to be the biggest thought-stopping question for regimists at SC. The answer, presumably, is that the regime would not be able to hide such an attack. This line assumes that UN investigators would — if such an attack took place — easily be able to do or say something to lay blame on the regime, and thus the regime would be caught in an atrocity.
How plausible are those assumptions behind the question? In what way and by which means would the UN team be able to pin the blame on one party or another? It is a fact that the UN team is in Damascus. It is also a fact that the regime has complete control of the team. The UN men have been given permission to visit one named and two secret locations. These locations are the only ones that the government has agreed to be visited. So, who wonders whether the Syrian government (who has explicitly denied any gas attack) will take advantage of the UN presence, and allow them out of its tight security bubble and to the alleged attack sites in East Ghouta?
I believe that if the government/military had no hand in the atrocities it would be in its own interests to direct the UN team to engage with the rebel units who control those Damascus suburbs. If it ‘knows’ that the attack was not from its own ‘side,’ then it would seem logical that an impartial investigation would prove its own claims. In which case I suggest that the more intelligent of the Assadist cheerleaders will shortly be calling upon the government of Syria to allow UN men out of regime-held central Damascus. – WILLIAM SCOTT SCHERK at http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/why-were-the-turks-kidnapped-in-lebanon-and-who-are-the-liwaa-asifat-al-shamal-who-are-holding-the-shiites-in-syria/?cp=all#comment-386816
The UN team was only a couple of miles away, but they may have just as well been on the other side of the planet. Assad decides where, when and how they can or cannot go whether they were let into Syria or not. By the time Assad did allow them entry [yesterday only to Moadamiye in Western Ghouta and today…] it might have been too little, and already too late.
Not only is that a long time, during those 125 hours or so Assad has constantly been “conventionally” bombarding these very sites. The chance that any significant evidence has been preserved seems therefore rather slim. Furthermore, in case the UN team does find enough evidence to establish that chemical weapons have been used, it doesn’t have the capability or mandate to establish who is responsible for using them.
Unidentified snipers shot at UN experts forcing them to suspend their attempt to investigate claims that chemical weapons had been used near Damascus, a United Nations spokesman has said. “The first vehicle of the chemical weapons investigation team was deliberately shot at multiple times by unidentified snipers,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. No injuries were reported. – http://blogs.aljazeera.com/topic/syria/un-inspectors-shot-damascus-says-un
They made it anyway:
Original longer live-feed with sound:
The footage is from Moadamiyet al-Sham, Western Ghouta. It’s unclear whether any of them reached Eastern Ghouta where most of the massacre took place. It was also at Moadamiye where the UN was shot at. The Moadamiye LCC uploaded the following video in which an activist member together with members of the FSA are waiting for the UN team at the entrance of the liberated territory while reporting that snipers from Assad’s Mukhabrat al-Jawiyye shot at the UN team who were trying to cross in.
To proclaim Assad’s innocence because it would be the dumbest thing he could do, is no different than to proclaim his guilt because it would be the perfect crime instead. The fact of the matter is, as long as the UN is in no position to catch him red handed their presence is of no significance to him other than perhaps to raise his middle finger at them. In the words of the previous Ba`athist chemical massacre record holder, Chemical Ali:
“…I am going to attack with chemical weapons. I will kill them all with chemical weapons! Who is going to say anything? The international community? F#@k them!” – http://www.hrw.org/legacy/campaigns/iraq/chemicalali.htm
Rather than having anything to fear from the UN, it’s become clear that this middle finger – unlike that of Ali Chemicali at that time – has at the very least shaken things up beyond any of the usual rhetoric, stocks are dropping, the oil price is rising, the media is in uproar and parliaments are being call back from recess as the U.S., British and French response has been drums of war and preparations for military action. This is what clearly matters most, not whatever presence the UN has, and this is only emphasized by the fact that those countries are apparently willing to take some action regardless of the UN and its Security Council. People who find that objective in itself clearly have the same opinion as Russia and may or rather should share its views about military action against the Serbs during their genocide in the former Yugoslavia [Bosnia and Kosovo]. Their view remained consistent:
Wars are the worst scenarios when international law is rudely violated, no matter if it was the case in Yugoslavia, Iraq or Libya. We do not intend to engage in wars with any party. We expect our Western partners to draft their policy based on strategies instead of reactions,” Lavrov said. – http://blogs.aljazeera.com/topic/syria/russian-fm-warns-against-intervention-syria
But what kind of action would that be, what are the actual consequences for Assad of that “red line” that he crossed? We have to remember that Israel has been bombarding Assad positions within Syria every few months since the revolution, as well as a few times since Bashar came to power a decade before. If any military action is indeed taken, it might very well be too limit to have any significance consequences for the survival or even stability of the regime. It would be enough to send a warning not to use chemical weapons again, but not enough to stop Assad from his ongoing non-chemical genocide and urbanicide. If that is the case, which is the most likely scenario at this moment, it means that he might take a hit but he also might come out stronger from it depending on many other factors such as any increasing involvement by Hezbollah, Iran and Russia. As of this moment, the drums of war don’t include any “regime change.” In fact, such an objective is explicitly denied even though it was the same case in Libya at first. If any upcoming military action actually defeats Assad or weakens him to the extent of facing defeat in the very near future then committing this chemical massacre indeed proves to be very stupid thing to do. But I don’t see it happening, and I doubt that Assad believed it was a very serious risk or even that he’s shaking in his pants as we speak. As long as his survival and main objectives aren’t under threat, there is little to fear. Time will tell.
BUT WASN’T ASSAD WINNING?
We’ve been hearing this in the media ever since al-Qusayr, but al-Qusayr is not Ghouta. Assad hasn’t been “winning” to begin with, what he has been is successful in achieving his main objectives of which the most important one is his very own survival. Winning is not an accurate description of the retaking of one or two towns, a dozen of villages and a couple of neighborhoods of a city. Assad has lost more than half of the country: the overwhelming majority of the towns and cities in the countryside, the city of Raqqa completely, Deir al-Zor nearly completely, and two thirds of Aleppo along with the many patches in several occupied major cities. As this has only been increasing, his loss only became greater.
Three particularly dangerous failures have been the incursion into a dozen Alawite villages in Latakia with Qardaha only a few miles away, the attack on his convoy in the heart of Damascus and the losses in greater Damascus, where the chemical massacre took place.
The opposition advances in Damascus
ISW: Elizabeth O’Bagy
It’s not that Assad wouldn’t use chemical weapons because he suffices with his planes, rockets and foreign mercenaries; it’s that he would use them following his old pattern of escalating when losses become unbearable. This escalation has happened numerous times throughout the revolution, from beating to shooting, from shooting to shelling, from shelling to bombarding, from tanks to helicopters, from fighter jets to scud missiles, from the Mukhabarat to the Army to the Shabbiha to Hezbollah and the rest of them. In greater Damascus, he already gave it all he got and it’s still wasn’t enough to secure his own well being inside the city.
Foreign Policy: You’ve got to hand it to him. Bashar al-Assad may be a cruel and ruthless dictator, but he does know how to play his cards. His careful, incremental introduction of chemical weapons into the Syrian conflict has turned President Barack Obama’s clear red line into an impressionist watercolor, undermining the credible threat of U.S. military intervention. Despite Obama’s statement on Friday that “we’ve crossed a line,” Assad knows that the United States does not want to be dragged into a Middle Eastern civil war and is attempting to call Obama’s bluff.
The Syrian regime’s subtle approach deliberately offers the Obama administration the option to remain quiet about chemical attacks and thereby avoid the obligation to make good on its threats. But even more worrying, Assad’s limited use of chemical weapons is intended to desensitize the United States and the international community in order to facilitate a more comprehensive deployment in the future — without triggering intervention.
The advent of chemical weapons use in Syria should not come as a surprise, and neither should the manner in which Assad has introduced them. The gory details about chemical weapons use are still forthcoming, but one of the first likely instances took place in late March at Khan al-Asal, a regime military facility under siege by rebels. Opposition reports and videos showed symptoms and effects consistent with a chlorine or phosphate-based chemical weapon, which the rebels claimed was delivered by a short-range rocket.
The Assad regime swiftly accused rebels of firing “rockets containing chemical materials” within hours of the attack, which helped outsiders suspect that a chemical-laden projectile had actually been used, and also had the effect of incriminating the usually slow-to-react regime. The chemical rocket attacked a specifically military rebel target at Khan al-Asal and the chemicals used were not highly lethal, although the recent reports from Israeli and U.S. intelligence officials have pointed to the use of more lethal sarin nerve gas.
This subtle introduction of chemical weapons fits the Assad regime’s established model for military escalation. Over the course of the conflict, each regime escalation has started with military necessity and expanded to brutal punishment of the Syrian population. Assad has established a clear modus operandi for ramping up the battle without triggering international intervention: toe the line, confirm Western inaction, and then ratchet up the violence further. At each step Washington’s hollow “we strongly condemn” rhetoric has validated the approach.
Assad’s forces began using heavy weapons to shell Homs in February 2012 because they could not dislodge the rebels with ground forces alone. From the regime’s perspective, military necessity demanded the relatively restrained use of artillery bombardment to soften rebel positions ahead of a ground offensive. Once Assad confirmed that artillery would not trigger an international response, the shelling expanded to target opposition civilian neighborhoods each day — without any attempt to retake these areas with ground forces.
When the Syrian regime’s ground troops became overstretched in June 2012, military necessity once again dictated escalation: Assad unleashed his air force. Assad did not have the troops necessary to respond to rebel advances in northern Aleppo and Latakia, and therefore employed limited helicopter strikes against rebel military targets. By August of last year, Assad had confirmed that his air offensive would not trigger a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone, which allowed him to deploy Syrian Air Force jets against rebel-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, punishing an innocent population for the rebels’ gains.
The cynical pattern continued. The regime introduced ballistic missiles once the rebels became adept at shooting down aircraft and overrunning airbases. The strikes began in December 2012, with small numbers of Scud missiles fired at an explicitly military target, a base overrun by rebel forces. Once again, Assad waited to see what the reaction would be. And once again, it was Western silence. By restricting the initial targets to rebel forces and limiting the number of strikes, Assad desensitized the U.S. and international community to the introduction of a new, strategic weapon that could later be turned against the Syrian people. By January of this year, the missile strikes had expanded to include consistent attacks against densely populated urban areas in Aleppo and Damascus.
And chemical weapons are next. Much like the strategy employed with artillery, air power, and ballistic missiles, Assad’s introduction of weapons of mass destruction intends to pave the way for more lethal and wide-ranging chemical attacks against the Syrian people in the future. Assad’s chemical weapons are not just a strategic deterrent against foreign intervention, they represent a critical tool in the ongoing campaign against the Syrian opposition. Assad’s approach to the conflict has been the inverse of what Western militaries call population-centric counterinsurgency: rather than clear insurgents out of population centers, Assad has sought to clear populations out of insurgent-held areas.
The strategy has successfully ensured that even when the rebels gain territory they lose the population, either literally, through physical displacement or death, or in the hearts and minds department, as civilians bear the brunt of the bloodshed and blame the rebels for their plight. It’s a cynical but effective strategy. The regime’s campaign of air strikes against bakeries, for example, isn’t just sadism or poor aim; it’s a deliberate attempt to ensure that the rebels can’t provide basic services for the people in the areas they control. This approach to insurgency is not new; the Russians have historically adopted this model against insurgents in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
Population displacement is central to Assad’s campaign: massacring Sunni villages, bulldozing Damascene neighborhoods, and launching ballistic missiles into downtown Aleppo all fit this overall approach. And chemical weapons fit this strategy. Even their limited use is terrifying, forcing populations to leave areas that the rebels have seized — and sowing fear that more is to come. But in order to use this weapon in greater numbers, Assad needs to be sure that Washington isn’t about to come knocking on his door with bunker busters. So far, there’s no indication that it will. – http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/04/26/syria_chemical_weapons_strategy_obama
Assad’s chemical warfare is the natural next step in his genocidal policy of mass destruction, and it’s far from being the first time that Assad has used these means to advance his objectives. Before the attacks on Ghouta, over a dozen cases of chemical weapons usage have emerged and eventually lead to the current presence of the UN teams. Jobar for example, which was among the long list of places chemically attacked on Wednesday, has faced chemical attacks several times before:
Le Monde: Reporters for Le Monde spent two months clandestinely in the Damascus area alongside Syrian rebels. They describe the extent of the Syrian tragedy, the intensity of the fighting, the humanitarian drama. On the scene during chemical weapons attacks, they bear witness to the use of toxic arms by the government of Bashar al-Assad. …
A chemical attack on the Jobar front, on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, doesn’t look like anything much at first. It’s not spectacular. Above all, it’s not detectable. And that’s the aim: by the time the rebel fighters of the Free Syrian Army who have penetrated furthest into Damascus understand that they’ve been exposed to chemical products by government forces, it’s too late. No matter which type of gas is used, it has already produced its effects, only a few hundred meters from residential areas of the Syrian capital.
At first, there is only a little sound, a metallic ping, almost a click. And in the confusion of daily combat in Jobar’s Bahra 1 sector, this sound didn’t catch the attention of the fighters of the Tahrir al-Sham (‘Liberation of Syria’) Brigade. ‘We thought it was a mortar that didn’t explode, and no one really paid attention to it,’ said Omar Haidar, chief of operations of the brigade, which holds this forward position less than 500 meters from Abbasid Square.
Searching for words to describe the incongruous sound, he said it was like ‘a Pepsi can that falls to the ground.’ No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate.
Reporters from Le Monde witnessed this on several days in a row in this district, on the outskirts of Damascus, which the rebels entered in January. Since then, Jobar has become a key battleground for both the Free Syrian Army and the government. In two months spent reporting on the outskirts of the Syrian captial, we encountered similar cases across a much larger region. …
On April 13, the day of a chemical attack on a zone of the Jobar front, Le Monde’s photographer was with rebels who have been waging war out of ruined buildings. He saw them start to cough before donning their gas masks, apparently without haste although in fact they were already exposed. Men crouched down, gasping for breath and vomiting. They had to flee the area at once. Le Monde’s photographer suffered blurred vision and and respiratory difficulties for four days. And yet, on that particular day, the heaviest concentrations of gas were used not there but in a nearby area. – http://www.lemonde.fr/proche-orient/article/2013/05/27/chemical-war-in-syria_3417708_3218.html
All these “red line” crossings before the chemical massacre have only led to the presence of a small UN team of investigators, political rhetoric being stepped among the “Friends of Syria”, slight increases in the already dry weapons supply, and no more than that. Neither have all the other massacres that lead to the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands, the displacement of many millions, the total destruction of large parts of cities, the involvement of Hezbollah, Iran and all sorts of foreign Shi`a Jihadists on the ground.
If this has significantly changed because of the very last, final and reddest of red lines now having been cross, with the fall of the Assad regime as its expected outcome, only then can it be said that this would have been a mistake Assad is not stupid enough to make. But this assumes that the stupidity was by Assad himself, while it’s also possible that someone else at the top, in the family, was responsible for it whether Bashar agreed to it or not. Would they then be that stupid? The story of Maher, undead or legless, being responsible has been going around and would answer the question. Then again, a friend who grew up with them told me that “Dr.” Bashar was a clumsy, snot nosed dork who they suspected of having mental disabilities while Maher, wild as he was, and more so Basil, were the ones who got respect. Tyrants and their childhood issues…
The powerful brother of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is suspected of authorizing the chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of Syrian civilians, according to a United Nations official who monitors armed conflicts in the region – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-08-27/assad-s-brother-seen-linked-to-syria-chemical-attack.html
[iHLS reports that] Israeli sources said that the IDF’s intelligence unit, Unit 8200 – which, among other intelligence operations, routinely eavesdrops on communications among military and political leaders in Syria — has recordings of senior Syrian political and military officials discussing the timing and scope of the chemical attack last Wednesday against civilians in rebel-held areas. Israeli intelligence sources have also identified the Syrian military unit which fired the chemical weapons: the 155th Brigade of the 4th Armored Division of the Syrian Army, a division under the command of the Syrian president’s brother, Maher Assad. – http://i-hls.com/2013/08/foreign-sources-israel-obtained-proof-about-the-syrian-attack/
Same guy? Those Israelis… Let’s hear the tape! To conclude: The Assad regime would easily gas the Syrian people, its been doing so for a while on a smaller scale, it has the means, the will, the moral decadency, the military motive and no reasonable fear for any UN presence or most likely even Obama’s “red line” even if it leads to military action against it. To bring into question the Assad regime’s responsibility for the chemical massacre that took place on the grounds of its excellent track record, its moral uprightness, its lack of means, will, motive or its fear for getting caught by the UN or being reprimanded by Obama holds no weight whatsoever.
Up next: why the opposition did not do it.
[UPDATE: The recordings did the trick]
Exclusive: Intercepted Calls Prove Syrian Army Used Nerve Gas, U.S. Spies Say