In terms of a concise, drink-it-all-in-at-once synopsis of chemical weapons as a casus belli in Syria, I don't think I've read any better:
But the real story behind the deaths in Khan Sheikhoun remains uncertain, with U.S. intelligence apparently still trying to unravel the mystery and with some logic pointing to the armed opposition as the perpetrators, not the Syrian government.
There are four basic theories about what happened:
-The dominant Western narrative is that the Syrian “regime” dropped illegal chemical weapons on civilians because it is simply barbaric or alternatively because it was celebrating its impunity following the Trump administration’s announcement that it was no longer seeking Assad’s ouster.
-Then, there’s the possibility of an accidental release of chemicals because an airstrike by the Syrian military hit an Al Qaeda weapons depot where chemical weapons were stored, rupturing the containers and causing the poison gas to spread over the area. The Russian Ministry of Defense says militants had a weapons production factory including chemical weapon ingredients.
-Another theory is that the deaths were part of a psychological operation in which the kidnapped civilians from Khattab and possibly others were killed or poisoned in a staged event prompted by the growing desperation of Al Qaeda and other rebel groups, especially after the late March announcement that the U.S. was no longer seeking Assad’s removal.
-There is also the possibility that an outside power, angered by the Trump administration’s announcement, assisted in the psychological operation by delivering the poison gas that was used on the town.
Despite Trump’s hasty decision to blame and punish the Assad government, U.S. intelligence analysts are reportedly still reviewing the evidence, which includes overhead surveillance of the area. However, because the President has already acted, whatever the CIA concludes – if it contradicts Trump – may remain secret for the indefinite future.
Still, there are facts, history and circumstantial reasons that would lead one to believe that it is far more likely the armed opposition is responsible than the government.
(1) The incident and publicity help the opposition and hurt the government.
Crime investigations usually begin with the question: Who has a motive? In this case, it’s strikingly clear that the armed opposition and their supporters benefited from this event. They have used the story to further demonize the Assad government and renew calls for the U.S. and “the world” to intervene.
Not only did the incident cause the Trump administration to reverse its recently announced reversal of Obama’s “Assad must go” mantra, but the deaths came as the Syrian government is making steady advances in many parts of the country. The government had no reason to use chemical weapons even if it still had any after surrendering its stockpiles of such weapons in 2014. Indeed, the government had every reason NOT to use chemical weapons, knowing very well the armed opposition’s propaganda capabilities and access to the major Western media.
It is also relevant to consider timing. In this case, the events in Khan Sheikhoun occurred the day before an important conference on Syria was to be held in Brussels. The conference titled “Supporting the future of Syria and the region” has been effectively sidetracked by news about the chemical weapons attack and the Syrian government being blamed.
(2) Extremists were likely responsible for the August 2013 chemical weapon attack in Damascus.
Western supporters of the armed opposition were quick to blame the Syrian government for the chemical attack in Ghouta on Aug. 21, 2013. However, subsequent investigations by the most credible investigative journalists and researchers concluded the Syrian government was probably NOT responsible. Seymour Hersh and Robert Parry concluded the attack was most likely carried out by militants with support from Turkish intelligence.
The in-depth examination titled WhoGhouta concluded “The only plausible scenario that fits the evidence is an attack by opposition forces.” An MIT study made a detailed trajectory analysis and concluded that the sarin-carrying missile could not have been fired from government territory. The study challenged the unsubstantiated claims made in the U.S. “government assessment” white paper, which almost led President Obama to launch a military strike against Syrian government forces. “Faulty intelligence could have led to an unjustified US military action,” the MIT study said.
(3) Armed opposition groups have a history of staging incidents
From the start, the Syrian conflict has included an information war. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted of “training for more than a thousand activists, students and independent journalists,” a program that amounted to an invitation for the armed opposition to sell its case to the West via propaganda on social media, including heartrending tales focused on suffering children and heroic stories of selfless “moderate” rebels and the even more selfless White Helmets “rescue workers.”
In December 2012, NBC journalist Richard Engel was reportedly kidnapped and abused by “shabiha” supporters of the Syrian government. Engel and his film crew were “liberated” by Free Syrian Army rebels after a gunfight with the supposedly pro-Assad kidnappers. In reality, the entire episode from kidnapping to rescue was a hoax designed to demonize Assad’s supporters and glorify the “rebels.” The true story emerged years later after the actual events were leaked. When it was going to be made public, Engel finally admitted the truth.
The world also now knows that the real kidnappers of Western journalists have been the jihadist rebels, who have decapitated hostages including Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff.
(4) Supporters of the armed opposition have a history of fabricating stories to demonize the Syrian government.
In February 2014, it was announced that a defecting Syrian military photographer, who was anonymous but code-named “Caesar,” had 55,000 photos documenting the torture and murder of 11,000 innocent Syrian civilians. This news received sensational media attention with live interviews on CNN and front-page coverage throughout the Western world. The news relied on the judgment of legal prosecutors who “verified” the story and produced a “Caesar Report,” released the day before the start of Geneva peace negotiations. It effectively disrupted the talks and facilitated the “rebels” refusal to negotiate and walk away.
In reality, the “verification” and report was commissioned by the government of Qatar, which has been a major funder of the armed opposition. Since then it has been discovered that nearly half the 55,000 photos show the opposite of what was claimed: they show dead Syrian soldiers and victims of explosions NOT tortured civilians, just one of the findings of fraud in this sensational story. [A concise expose of “Caesar” is here.]