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Chemical Attack Doesn’t Alter Syria’s Dynamics

Chemical Attack Doesn’t Alter Syria’s Dynamics
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On the sixth anniver­sary of the upris­ing in Syria and a day after the US rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the United Nations announced that the US is no longer pri­ori­tis­ing the removal of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar al-Assad. Infor­ma­tion con­tin­ues to trickle out of the lat­est chem­i­cal weapons attack by the al-Assad regime. Speak­ing to Mid­dle East Eye from Idlib, Ibrahim al-Seweid, 26, said he arrived at the attack site at about 11 am, on Tues­day 4 April, about three hours after the ini­tial strike. “I found bod­ies scat­tered all over the area. The local hos­pi­tal wasn’t pre­pared for the num­ber of dead. They hit a res­i­den­tial area, the vast major­ity of the casu­al­ties were civil­ian. And it was clear it was some sort of chem­i­cal attack — the way the vic­tims looked, and there was foam on their faces. he said.”  The chemical weapons attack took place on the town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib, north­west­ern Syria. Despite Bashar’s use of chemical weapons, it will not alter the strate­gic landscape across Syria.

The al-Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons has now occurred so many times it has become a regular feature of the battle for Syria. The dead­liest attacks were the Ghouta attack in the sub­urbs of Damascus in August 2013 and the Khan al-Assal attack in the sub­urbs of Aleppo in March 2013. Several other attacks have been also taken place, the UN mis­sion found the use of the nerve agent sarin in the case of Khan Al-Asal (19 March 2013), Saraqib (29 April 2013), Ghouta (21 August 2013), Jobar (24 August 2013) and Ashrafiyat Sah­naya (25 August 2013). In August 2016, a con­fi­den­tial United Nations report explic­itly blamed the Syr­ian mil­i­tary of Bashar al-Assad for drop­ping chem­i­cal weapons on the towns of Talmenes in April 2014 and Sarmin in March 2015.Syria is not a sig­na­tory to either the Chem­i­cal Weapons Con­ven­tion (CWC) or the Com­pre­hen­sive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). As a result, Syria began devel­op­ing chem­i­cal weapons in the 1970’s and made seri­ous efforts to acquire and main­tain an arse­nal of such weapons. Its For­eign Min­istry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, at a news con­fer­ence shown live on Syr­ian national tele­vi­sion on July 2012, con­firmed Syria’s pos­ses­sion of chem­i­cal weapons.

Prior to the upris­ing Syria report­edly man­u­fac­tured Sarin, Tabun, VX, and mus­tard gas types of chem­i­cal weapons. West­ern non-proliferation experts iden­ti­fied 5 pro­duc­tion and stor­age facil­i­ties at Cerin, Hama, Homs, Latakia and Palmyra and one sus­pected weapons base at Al Safir. Inde­pen­dent assess­ments indi­cated that Syr­ian pro­duc­tion was a mere few hun­dred tons of chem­i­cal agent per year and its stock­piles prior to inter­na­tional export con­trols were likely to have been long exhausted.This is due to Syria’s inabil­ity to inter­nally pro­duce many of the nec­es­sary pre­cur­sors to cre­ate chem­i­cal weapons and its depen­dence upon import­ing them; a fact that was doc­u­mented by the CIA and seen in declas­si­fied acqui­si­tion report to US Con­gress. As mil­i­tary com­man­ders learned dur­ing World War I and the Iran-Iraq war, chem­i­cal agents are volatile, quick to vaporize, and tend to dissipate quickly. There­fore, it will be chal­leng­ing for the regime to amass enough quan­ti­ties of chem­i­cal agents to cause sig­nif­i­cant dam­age in a real-world setting.

In all the cases of chem­i­cal weapons use by the regime they were mainly used against civil­ian tar­gets and not against the rebel groups. They were used in urban areas where sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­la­tions reside in close prox­im­ity. The nature of the upris­ing in Syria is that it took place all over the coun­try. Many of the rebel groups did not have fixed posi­tions such as mil­i­tary bases or large stocks of weapons. As a result chem­i­cal weapons in this con­text would have lit­tle impact on the groups, using artillery to dis­perse chem­i­cal agents have had lit­tle impact as they are dis­persed around the coun­try. Al-Assad is fight­ing an uncon­ven­tional rather than con­ven­tional force that uses asym­met­ric tac­tics, which is hard to tar­get through a mis­sile or the use of uncon­ven­tional weapons with­out self-annihilation. In Syria there are too many rebel units to tar­get. This is why the rebels have never needed to match the regime’s forces’ num­bers or fire­power because they com­pelled the regime to across the country.

But Chem­i­cal weapons are a weapon of mass fear rather than mass destruc­tion and as their pre­vi­ous use by the regime has shown they have done lit­tle to alter the strate­gic picture

As the US ambas­sador gave Bashar the green light it would appear he has resorted to this type of attack. Recent rebel offen­sives in Hama and else­where in Syria have chal­lenged the forces of Bashar al-Assad, despite the vic­tory in Aleppo back in Decem­ber 2016 and it would appear the chem­i­cal attack took place in this con­text. But Chem­i­cal weapons are a weapon of mass fear rather than mass destruc­tion and as their pre­vi­ous use by the regime has shown they have done lit­tle to alter the strate­gic pic­ture. It still remains the fact that Bashar can­not defeat the rebels and it is Iran and Rus­sia who are still doing the heavy lift­ing to keep him in power. The polit­i­cal cover nec­es­sary is being pro­vided by the US and the regional coun­tries are play­ing their role and pur­su­ing their nar­row inter­ests as the ummah is slaugh­tered in Syria.

After six years of war Bashar should really know bet­ter that even the use of chem­i­cal weapons has done lit­tle to the masses that arose to over­throw him. The selec­tive out­rage demon­strated by the West­ern Media and Government’s only con­firms that some lives mat­ter more to them than oth­ers. The sur­round­ing Mus­lim regimes hold the largest share of cul­pa­bil­ity for fail­ing to come to the aid of the peo­ple, but instead they have pur­sued their own nar­row interests.

Author is a polit­i­cal ana­lyst, author and activist who spe­cial­izes in inter­na­tional affairs. Hav­ing a back­ground in Inter­na­tional Busi­ness and Eco­nom­ics, his research includes a focus on how an Islamic Eco­nomic sys­tem would func­tion in the Mus­lim world. He is based in the United King­dom. His twitter handle is @AdnanIntlissues



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