But what caught my eye is the continuing drip-drip-drip of allegations that Syria is an active chemical weapons state. The latest, from this morning's Situation Report, is a BBC story from an "unnamed Western intelligence agency":
Syria. An unnamed Western intelligence agency tells the BBC that the Assad regime is still producing chemical weapons, despite a 2013 deal struck by the Obama administration for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons capabilities. An intelligence report shared with the news outlet says production is continuing at three separate facilities in Hama province and near Damascus. Inspectors for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons visited two of the sites recently but intelligence officials believe weapons work is still continuing in secret sections of the sites.This is part of the reborn information war meant to soften up the subjects for another go at regime change in Syria. Western air forces will declare a no-fly zone (better yet, a "free-fire zone") over the country based on Assad's secret chemical weapons capacity.
It interesting that the Russian no-fly proposal emerging from talks in Astana would ground all military aircraft, U.S. included, in the designated "safe zones," which is probably why the rebels (jihadists) won't agree (because the goal, as always, is for the U.S. to bomb Damascus). According to SitRep:
No fly? Under a plan agreed to by Russia, Iran and Turkey on Thursday, U.S. aircraft would be barred from flying over four “safe zones” in Syria, save for carrying out operations against ISIS or al Qaeda-affiliated groups. The memorandum would also ban flights by the Syrian air force.
Russian official Alexander Lavrentyev added on Friday in televised remarks that all military aircraft -- including those from Russia and Turkey -- would also be banned from the designated zones. Lavrentyev added, “the operation of aviation in the de-escalation zones, especially of the forces of the international coalition, is absolutely not envisaged, either with notification or without. This question is closed.” The U.S. Central Command has not yet commented on the proposal, which the United States was not a party to.A new wrinkle in the info wars is the argument that Assad is acting against Russian wishes. Anand Gopal mentioned it in his Democracy Now! interview. The idea that Russia is a rational actor and knows and signs off on much of what the Syria government does (for instance, Robert Fisk wrote that if Syria did use sarin at Khan Sheikhoun, the Russians had to know about it) is an impediment to U.S. regime change efforts because Russia would clearly not invite Western intervention by needlessly using chemical weapons. Hence the need to establish that Syria is operating without Russian warrant.
Situation Report includes the latest installment in this bit of info warfare. Russia has Muslim special forces on the ground to curtail "any action taken by the Assad regime that would undermine Moscow’s wider interests in the Middle East":
Kremlin has a new weapon in Syria. Russia has kept its ground presence in Syria relatively low-key up to this point, insisting that most troops are maintaining aircraft, or training and advising Syrian forces. But that might be changing. FP contributor Neil Hauer notes that the Kremlin has now “deployed an unprecedented Russian weapon to Syria: several units of Chechen and Ingush commandos hailing from Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.”
More: “The ongoing deployment of the Chechen and Ingush brigades marks a strategic shift for the Kremlin: Russia now has its own elite ground personnel, drawn from its Sunni Muslim population, placed across Syria. This growing presence allows the Kremlin to have a greater role in shaping events on the ground as it digs in for the long term. Such forces could prove vital in curtailing any action taken by the Assad regime that would undermine Moscow’s wider interests in the Middle East while offering a highly effective method for the Kremlin to project power at a reduced political cost.”