After Obama was diverted from intervention in Syria, the world stopped paying attention to the question of whether the Assad government or the rebels launched the chemical attack in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. But the question remains open -- and important.
Needless to say, most Americans sneered in derision when Russia
insisted that the rebels were responsible. The American media latched onto the Human Rights Watch report, which blamed Assad. In my opinion, that report was propaganda
; even HRW's own maps show that the rebels (probably) controlled the territory from which the rockets were (probably) launched. Nearly everyone ignored this CNN report
from last December which explained that the rebel forces were trained to capture, store and use chemical weapons.
Throughout the controversy, nobody ever attempted to explain why Assad's forces would launch a militarily useless attack which could serve only to bring America into the war.
You may not have known that there is an entire blog
devoted to this topic, written by someone called Sasa Wawa, about whom I know nothing. He (am I using the correct pronoun?) does seem to try
to be fair and objective, and he makes a habit of listing the points favoring both arguments. Here
is a detailed response to the Human Rights Watch report.
And here is Sasa Wawa's final report
, published just a few days ago. This report offers persuasive (though not conclusive) evidence indicating that the rockets were launched from an opposition-held area, and that the sarin was of a lower quality than one might have expected from Assad's stockpiles. More than that, he links to a video of a jihadist rebel group (Liwa Al-Islam) launching what appears to be the attack on Ghouta.
How (you may well ask) did the rebels acquire the sarin? Wawa reports that members of the Syrian opposition were arrested in Turkey trying to purchase the precursor ingredients for sarin. The rockets showed traces of white phosphorous, indicating that they were weapons captured from a government stockpile, repurposed.
Wawa's final analysis of the Assad-did-it theory deserves to be quoted:
Besides demonstrating the high likelihood of a rebel attack, the research also exposed the implausibility of the regime attack scenario: To believe that the attack was carried out by the regime, one would need to assume the following:
1. The regime decided to carry out a large-scale sarin attack against a civilian population, despite (a) making steady gains against rebel positions, (b) receiving a direct threat from the US that the use of chemical weapons would trigger intervention, (c) having constantly assured their Russian allies that they will not use such weapons, (d) prior to the attack, only using non-lethal chemicals and only against military targets.
2. The regime pressed for a UN investigation of a prior chemical attack on Syrian troops, and then decided to launch the large-scale sarin attack at the time of the team's arrival, and at a nearby location.
3. To execute the attack they decided to (a) send forces into rebel-held area, where they are exposed to sniper fire from multiple directions, (b) use locally manufactured short-range rockets, instead of any of the long-range high quality chemical weapons in their arsenal, and (c) use low quality sarin.
Let me once again stipulate that Assad is despicable. If I were a young man in Syria, I myself might take part in the effort to topple him. But America has no business butting into Syria's civil war -- and this country has entered into far too many battles under false pretenses.