On July 23, 2012 the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi confirmed that the Syrians held such weapons (chemical) and that they would be never used against the Syrian people. He added that they would be used, “strictly and only in the event of external aggression.” During August 2013 a large number of deaths occurred in and around Ghouta an agricultural area to the east and west of Damascus, Syria.
On September 16, 2013 United Nations (UN) inspectors stated that a nerve agent had been used in Ghouta and the method of delivery was by rockets containing the chemical agent. At the time the United States administration led by President Obama, the United Kingdom led by David Cameron and the French administration led by Francois Hollande requested military action against the Syrian government. Russia opposed the action which was expected.
The votes within the various governments were voted down and no military action was taken. The West dithered and eventually the Assad regime agreed to destroy its current stockpiles of chemical weapons and the means of manufacturing them or face action by the United States. Syria was left alone.
Since the dismantling of the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile on September 20, 2013 and the ability to manufacture such weapons this has not stopped the Syrian military from using chemical weapons on its own people, as the world has seen in the April 2018 chemical attack in Douma and prior to this date.
Although many such attacks have been reported they have been mainly chlorine gas attacks which are dropped by a barrel bomb from helicopters above various ‘rebel’ held locations. Chlorine gas is not covered by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The organisation was set up in 1997 and has 192 member states of which Russia and Syria are signatories. The goal of OPCW is, “The OPCW Member States share the collective goal of preventing chemistry from ever again being used for warfare.”
Because of the complexity of Chlorine gas, the contents are used in may industrial and household cleaning products. It is only when the components are mixed together and are used as a weapon are they then classified as a chemical weapon. Because of the manner in the past of not responding to chemical attacks by various governments the Assad Regime, the Russians along to a lesser extent the Iranians have had a free run at what they want to do in the Syrian conflict. The Syrians never used chemical weapons outside their country only against its own people contradicting what the Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi said on July 23, 2012.
Whilst the West has condemned the attacks they have done nothing in response. The Syrian government keep stating that it is fighting terrorists (there is no worldwide clear definition of the term ‘terrorist’) but a number of those targeted are not fighting personnel but innocent women and children who live in the areas that the fighters are conducting their war.
Barrell bombs are being dropped at an alarming rate in the country including the targeting of hospitals and medical facilities by Syrian and Russian government forces. The attacks on these facilities and those on innocents prove that the Russians, Syrians and the Iranians have no regard for life whatsoever. All these countries concern themselves with is staying as a dictatorial State in which only their own ideology counts and will do so at any cost.
The Russians also have a history of using chemical agents outside of their own country. Whilst looking at the Syrian perspective let us not forget that on March 4, 2018 Sergei Skripal and his daughter were found in Salisbury, United Kingdom slumped over on a public bench. It was later confirmed that a chemical agent was used against the former Russian spy. The agent used was known as ‘Novichok’ a known chemical agent which was only manufactured in Russia. On April 12, 2018 the OPCW confirmed the chemical which was identified in the attempted murder of Skripal and his daughter and agreed with the findings of the UK. The Russians denied any such intention and claimed that it was an anti-Russian slur campaign.
The attack on Skripal and his daughter was not the first attack on the UK mainland. On September 11, 1978 Georgi Ivanov Markov a Bulgarian dissident who was a broadcaster and journalist was assassinated in London. Whilst waiting at a bus stop he felt a sharp stab in his leg. He later died of the inflicted injury. When the autopsy was carried out they found a small micro engineered pellet no larger than a pinhead. Later it was found that the pellet contained ricin.
Ten days prior to the death of Markovin Paris, France Vladimir Kostov another dissident Bulgarian was also targeted. Kostov was attacked with a similar pellet that was possibly fired from a sophisticated bag. The pellet that was recovered was exactly the same as the one fired into the leg of Markov. Kostov’s pellet failed to function in the same way as Markov’s but still made Kostov very ill and he survived the attack.
On May 11, 2012 an unidentified male in Hannover, Germany died from a similar incident. Again, after the autopsy there was a small pellet found in his body this time found with mercury not ricin. The police recalled the Markov incident and that is how they found the cause of death.
Alexander Litvinenko who was a former Russian officer belonging to the Federal Security Service became seriously ill on November 1, 2006. He was later diagnosed with radiation poisoning using lethal Polonium-210. He died three weeks later on 23 November 2006. In all cases it was found that the Russians had a hand in the assassinations.
In past events, the Syrian and Russian governments have again shown disregard for civilian and non-combatant personnel. On April 4, 2017 a toxic agent was used to attack on Syrian civilians at Khan Sheikhoun where it was reported that at least 58 people were killed dozens of others wounded in the attack. The death toll would later rise and include twenty children. Later it was discovered that the chemical agent that was used was a Sarin nerve agent.
Syria denied that attack with Russia stating that there were none of its aircraft in the vicinity. However, later Russia claimed that a Syrian airstrike had hit a “terrorist warehouse” containing an arsenal of “toxic substances.”
This was a deliberate attack using a chemical weapon which caused the Americans with their new President and administration to respond by firing a number of Tomahawk Cruise Missiles at targets in Syria on April 6/7, 2017. A number of Syrian deaths occurred and the targets were those locations responsible for the Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack. This, however, did not deter the Assad government and there were later reports of ‘chemical agents’ being used.
The latest attack against the Syrian government for its use of chemical weapons is a follow on from the previous attack on the 6/7 April 2017. The targets that were attacked on the 14 April consisted of:
- A scientific research facility in Damascus, allegedly connected to the production of chemical and biological weapons;
- A chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs;
- A chemical weapons equipment storage site and an important command post, also near Homs.
The recent attack on Syria were a little more intense than the previous one. Reuters quoted Syrian authorities which claimed other targets had also been attacked. They claim that other targets were a military base in the Dimas area, army depots east of Qalamoun a location that is believed the Iranians are building a base and a separate research centre. Russia and Syria claim that they have shot down 71 of the 103 missiles that were fired at Syria.
It is likely that Russia may have shot down some of the missiles but according to United States military sources none were, and all reached their respective targets. However, listening to various news agencies they state that aircraft along with cruise missiles were used in the operation not just missiles. In a statement from the Pentagon it was stated that “none of the aircraft or missiles were successfully engaged” by defence systems and all aircraft returned.
The Americans, French and British have made clear that they have attacked only Syrian targets and those responsible for chemical attacks. There is no record of any Iranian or Russian targets nor of any equipment or personnel being damaged or injured in the attacks. However, this cannot be ruled out as a propaganda method to be exploited at a later date. The speeches by the three countries involved in the attack are very clear regarding what the aims of the operation were and that there is no reason to have a regime change or that they wish to get involved in the Syrian conflict. This attack was purely against President Assad for the use of chemical weapons on their own people.
But it is clear that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated in accordance with the signatories of the Russian and Syrian governments to the OPCW. The Russians and Syrians have vowed to retaliate along with their other ally Iran, but what will be clear is that the attacking allies will not allow the use of chemical weapons to go unchallenged. The use of a chemical weapon to terrorise innocent civilians will should be challenged at every turn.
But this does leave unanswered questions. If Syria claims to have no chemical weapons and that everything was destroyed and it had signed up to the OPCW Convention how is it still managing to use chemical weapons?
They are either reproducing chemical weapons which were destroyed or handed over in the past which may mean those locations that were destroyed have either been resurrected or that new locations are being used to manufacture chemical agents. But why would Russia allow this, being a member of the OPCW and a member of the United Nations Security Council?
Another thought that cannot be discounted could be that the Syrian government is being supplied with chemical agents? If this is the case, then they can flatly deny they have such a weapon or that they are producing chemical weapons. If again, this is the case, then who is supplying them with weapons of this nature?
Their allies are Iran and Russia but a report by the United Nations in February 2018 claims that North Korea is shipping materials to Syria which could be used to manufacture chemical weapons and North Korea is not a signatory of the OPCW agreement.
Whatever the case, there needs to be more information available so that people can see and understand why these weapons are still being manufactured and used in Syria. Chemical investigators should still be allowed into these sights if for nothing else than to keep the pressure up on the Syrian government and their allies. All parties should be held accountable to the OPCW and the United Nations Security Council.