As the UN releases its anticipated report on the most recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, it is worth noting that the most important issue remains unresolved. The report states that evidence gathered by investigators provides “clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Amalaka in the Ghouta area of Damascus.” Addressing the United Nations Security Council, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said “The United Nations Mission has now confirmed, unequivocally and objectively, that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.” He went on to call for the international community to condemn the attack, which he described as a war crime, and hold those responsible accountable. The bottom line is that a war crime has definitely been committed by somebody. The UN does not appear to have determined who committed it.
The prevailing belief – which has not been proven but which the United States government continues to repeat – is that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the use of chemical weapons against his own people. The fact that Assad might be capable of such a thing is well within the realm of possibility. It should be noted, however, that evidence of atrocities committed by the al Qaeda-affiliated rebel forces accumulates daily.
After investigating an earlier alleged chemical attack, as reported by the Las Vegas Guardian Express, the United Nations concluded that opposition forces, and not the Syrian army, had likely perpetrated the crime. After more than two years, during which more than 100,000 people are estimated to have been killed, forces loyal to the Syrian leader have fought the rebel uprising to a virtual standstill. Assad enjoys the support of Russia and Iran and seems far less likely to be removed from power than he appeared a year ago. The Syrian strongman may be a ruthless dictator, but he is a shrewd politician with a years-old reputation for survival. In contrast, the opposition forces – at least half of whom are said to be Islamist extremists – are fractured, plagued by in-fighting and tit-for-tat murders and have seen their momentum steadily grind to a halt. Even as they battle the Syrian army, they are waging an indisputable campaign of terror against Syria’s Christian community and against those Syrians who resist their imposition of Sharia law in areas under their control.
Given this set of facts and circumstances, it would seem more likely that the latest chemical attack was, in fact, carried out by extremist elements within the Syrian opposition – likely without approval by the opposition’s political representatives.
Chemical agents are not legal weapons of war, under long-standing international laws and protocols. The 38-page UN report unequivocally concludes that a war crime was committed in Syria; it does not, however, assign responsibility. The recent provisional agreement between the United States and Russia to identify, remove and destroy the Syrian regime’s chemical arsenal does nothing to address the willingness and ability of the opposition forces to use such weapons. The official US position is that the Assad regime is responsible for chemical attacks; the Obama administration has managed to completely disregard UN findings, regarding the attack that took place in April. If further evidence emerges that the rebels are the ones using such weapons, the administration’s support of them will prove disastrous for the already deteriorating image of the United States around the world.
An editorial by Graham J Noble