Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

‘Sarin Doesn’t Slice Throats’: The 2013 Ghouta Massacre Revisted

Posted by M. C. on June 15, 2022

by William Van Wagenen

Liwa al-Islam could not have carried out the massacre and successfully blamed it on the Syrian government, without the planning, propaganda, logistical, and military support they received from their various foreign intelligence sponsors in the process.

“Germ and chemical weapons may often be weak in their battlefield applications but they are always strong in their emotiveness. Accusations of association with them have for centuries, even millennia, been used by well-intentioned as well as unscrupulous people to vilify enemies and to calumniate rivals. Can onlookers protect themselves against the possibility of such assaults upon their common sense today?”- Julian Perry Robinson

On the morning of August 21, 2013, a flurry of videos appeared on social media alleging to show the aftermath of a mass chemical attack in Syria. The Obama administration quickly accused the Syrian government of launching a barrage of sarin filled rockets toward the Damascus suburbs of eastern and western Ghouta, thereby murdering 1,429 civilians, including 456 children.

Nine years later, the perception persists that this terrible crime was carried out by the Syrian government. However, with the passing of time, and as more details have surfaced, it has become clear that the Syrian government did not carry out the Ghouta chemical attack.

This was evident even in 2013 when the attack occurred, given the incentives faced by both sides in the conflict, and given the timing of the attack.

A year before, in August 2012, President Barack Obama had declared that any use of chemical weapons constituted a “red line” that, if crossed, would trigger U.S. military intervention against the Syrian government.

The Salafist militias comprising the opposition, broadly known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, therefore had every incentive to carry out a false flag chemical attack that could be blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. To topple the Syrian government, the Salafist insurgents both needed and wanted a western bombing campaign of the sort that had toppled the Libyan government in August 2011.

Syrian opposition leaders began demanding a U.S.-imposed no-fly zone over Syria starting as early as September 2011, shortly before Libyan President Moammar Qaddafi was murdered by Islamist militants fighting under the umbrella of NATO warplanes, and long before Obama announced his red line.

In contrast, it was in President Assad’s interest to prevent any use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army. Failure to do so would almost guarantee his government would be toppled, further plunging Syria into the type of chaos that had enveloped Libya, while leaving Assad to suffer Qaddafi’s gruesome fate.

It is no wonder that, despite accusing Assad of carrying out the Ghouta chemical attacks, neither American or British intelligence could provide a possible rationale at the time as to why Assad would do it, or what advantage he or the Syrian army would gain by it.

Many observers have also noted the timing of the alleged attack. If Assad ordered it, this means he carried out a chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs just three days after UN chemical weapons inspectors had arrived in Syria’s capital, at Assad’s own invitation, to investigate allegations chemical weapons use by the opposition in the town of Khan al-Assal four months previous. It is highly improbable that Assad would have carried out a chemical attack and at the same time ensured that UN inspectors would be immediately present to investigate it.

Even more improbable is that Assad would carry out a chemical attack at a time when he was winning the war, and just as U.S. and NATO forces were preparing for a large-scale military intervention in Syria, the likes of which only a breach of Obama’s red line could trigger.

For example, in June 2013, Obama administration officials concluded that a more direct intervention, including providing weapons to the so-called rebels and possibly imposing a no-fly zone “was needed to stem the tide of Assad victories.” That same month, U.S. planners stationed F-16 warplanes and Patriot missile batteries in neighboring Jordan in preparation to impose a no-fly zone.

In July 2013, amidst calls from Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), and others for imposing a no-fly zone, General Martin Dempsey laid out detailed options for military intervention in Syria to the White House. Also in July, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees approved White House and CIA plans to directly arm the Salafist militias comprising the FSA. Previously, U.S. planners had relied on Saudi, Qatari, and Turkish intelligence to do so.

On August 13, fully nine days before the alleged chemical attack in Ghouta, FSA commanders in Turkey had started “advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge.” The commanders had been told by U.S., Turkish, and Qatari intelligence officials that a U.S.-led intervention in Syria was imminent and were ordered to “prepare their forces quickly to exploit the U.S. bombing, march into Damascus, and remove the Bashar al-Assad government.” On August 17, four days before the Ghouta attack, CIA and Israeli operatives embedded with FSA fighters entered Syria from Jordan, reaching as far as Ghouta, in what the French newspaper La Figaro described as the beginning of the “anti-Assad operation.” On August 21, the day the Ghouta chemical attack occurred, U.S., Turkish, and Qatari intelligence distributed weapons “unprecedented in scope” to FSA commanders in preparation for the assault on Damascus.

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