Originally Published 2013-09-03 14:12:01 Published on Sep 03, 2013
Like about the Loch Ness Monster, we have only heard that the West has proof of the Assad regime using chemical weapons. But we've seen no credible testimony. For all one knows, it may have been the rebels' doing to instigate a US military response.
The evidence on Syria is thin
"The basic question in Syria, as British politician George Galloway asks, is: "We all know the regime is bad enough to do it, but are they mad enough to do it?" The resounding answer is yes and yes! Like his father before him, Mr Bashar al-Assad has proven to be ruthless and mostly uncompromising. Unlike his brilliant father though Mr Assad is a monument to stupidity. This starts from the fact that he was never groomed for leadership, growing up as the unwanted spare, while his elder brother Bassel al-Assad basked in the glory of being heir apparent.

This lack of grooming has always shown. Hafez al-Assad picked Syria up from a devastating defeat at the hands of Israel, and turned what seemed a hopeless situation for Syria into a hopeless conundrum for Israel. His extraordinary grasp of realpolitik also meant that Lebanon was turned into a de facto colony under his rule. But Mr Assad took a golden Syria and turned it to rubble, ceding almost all its geopolitical trump cards through his hasty, rash ill-considered decisions.

This started with the bombing of Rafiq Hariri, the former Prime Minister of Lebanon and acknowledged leader of the Lebanese Sunnis. That sparked a people’s power revolution that forced Syrian troops out - from near total control by proxy to no influence whatsoever within the space of a month. This same amateurishness was also evident in his handling of the economy - at once starting liberalisation, then thwarting it. Similarly, his administration failed to see how the 2007 droughts would lead to massive population migration out of Northern Syria, exacerbating an already precarious economic situation.

But here’s the problem - the ’West’ is no paragon of virtue either and suffers from a deep credibility crisis. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s past military interventions have all been triggered by oh-so-convenient attacks that happen at an opportune moment that are later proven to be disputed at worst or falsified at best. One such incident could be an exception, two a conspiracy theory, but three onwards and it becomes an established pattern.

The first incident is the Markale Market massacre where an explosion killed scores of innocent civilians in Sarajevo in 1994 and was used to justify the subsequent bombing campaign against them. Within hours of the outrage, Nato was claiming it had information that indicated with 99 per cent certainty that the Serbs had fired the shots. As it emerged later - and confirmed by General Michael Rose (the Nato commander who called in the airstrikes) in his book - the mortar shells had, in fact, been fired from Bosnian Muslim positions. The Nato’s ultra-sensitive radars did not pick up any in-bound fire nor had the victims heard the characteristic whistle of bombs flying through the air. Many such logical loopholes abound.

The second episode was the Nato intervention in Kosovo in 1999, again triggered by a ’massacre’ in Racak. The forensic evidence was so heavily contaminated and the inconsistencies so great that arriving at any conclusion was a miracle. Like Markale, the evidence here too has many logical loopholes. The ’evidence’ regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, of course, has also been completely discredited. Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the man who dramatically held up a vial of weaponised biological matter at the UN Security Council, now describes it as "the lowest point in my life".

We now come to the inescapable conclusion that Nato’s forensic and intelligence-gathering methods are so deeply flawed, that they are more suited to a Gestapo investigation than any civilised court of law. There is also a case to be made for the fact that the West has, in effect, given rebel groups, worldwide, the notion that they need to precipitate a horrific massacre to qualify for free airstrikes.

However, for the sake of argument, let us assume that this is one big conspiracy theory being foisted on the West. We still end up with significant complications with the Syria story. Take, for example, the fact that despite claiming to have significant intelligence assets, not one single Western Government talked about a chemical attack occurring till amateur videos appeared on television. Yet within hours of the videos being broadcast, these same Governments claimed they had indisputable evidence that Mr Assad had carried out chemical attacks. Within 24 hours, the fatalities jumped from 350 to 1,400 and reports began circulating that "the rockets carrying these chemical agents came only from Government controlled areas and landed only in rebel controlled areas".

All this presents a major logical problem. For starters, if electronic intercepts prove anything, they need to be shared publicly. When the USSR shot down Korean Airlines flight 007, for example, the US Ambassador to the UN, Jeane Kirkpatrick, went on the offensive within days producing intercepts of Soviet communications, leaving the USSR red-faced. So, what seems to be the hassle now? Why are we not hearing these radio intercepts?

Second, to determine that rockets originated at a precise location you need to have large sophisticated weapons locating radars that operate in the X band or Synthetic Aperture Radars on planes such as the American Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System. Now the ground-based radars need to be within about 30-40km to detect such fire, and we know that there were no such large-scale Western assets around Damascus at the time of the alleged chemical attacks. Similarly, there is no record of any JSTARS deployment to the region at this time.

Now I’ve heard of the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, Vetaals and Santa Claus and I am yet to see any evidence of these - a bit like this fabled evidence on Syria that one hears about, but is yet to see. Compounding the West’s credibility deficit here is the moral deficit.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has a controversial past. As Prime Minister in 1985, Mr Fabius personally ordered the bombing of an unarmed ship, Rainbow Warrior, with an unarmed peace activist crew, resulting in the death of one person on board. Similarly, if the West is so keen to prevent ethnic cleansing of Sunnis, it also needs to account for the near-total ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo while under Nato occupation as well as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign to kick Roma people out of France.

So here’s the situation as it stands: Public opinion is being asked to decide between two unwise men. By all means Mr Barack Obama, fire a few tomahawks at Syria, but then at least have the integrity to fire something into the Élysée Palace.

(The writer is a Programme Coordinator at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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